[Guest entry by Ian Dowsett with editorial assistance by SurfingtheSpectacle]
Thomas Kinkade, the name alone, for anyone familiar with him, conjures up dreamy images of rustic cottages and intoxicated suburban housewives turned art collectors. His adoring fans cherish each work of the contemporary painter. But others seem to revile the man. A quick google search for “Kinkade sucks” (without quotes) offers as many as 24,800 hits. In comparison, a search for, say, “Typhoid Mary sucks” (without quotes) offers just 21,200. This proves startlingly little, yet seems very impressive.
Chief among the complaints concerning Thomas Kinkade is the simplistic nature of his works, typically featuring inoffensive and fanciful cottages in tranquil countrysides. Now that generally isn’t such a terrible thing; not every painter must address important and bloody social issues with a Goya-esque devotion. Yet Kinkade’s inoffensive paintings aren’t just a form of self expression or even a means to support a lifestyle. Rather they form a monstrously booming business of manufactured “Art.”
Kinkade’s astonishing assembly line requires scores of workers to produce the endless prints millions buy every year. They’re not paintings of course, but posters of paintings, shellacked and framed to give the illusion of a painting. And they’re huge sellers on the web, on television (he apparently sold 1-2 million dollars of his product in a single hour on QVC) and in his own line of stores nationwide. He is said to be the most collected artist in the world. And now he merchandises Thomas Kinkade cups, couches, teddy bears, and other wonderful items for the home.
What drives the man? It’s a sacred quest. Kinkade is the “Painter of Light” (he’s trademarked that moniker, by the way). His work isn’t about business or industry; it’s a sacred thing. It’s about values. In his website, he is lovingly described as a “devout Christian who uses his gift as a vehicle to communicate and spread inherent life-affirming values.” Yes, of course. Life-affirming values.
While it’s true that he is also involved in charges of business malfeasance, sexual groping and a penchant for public urination, these trifles shouldn’t diminish his true contribution to our culture: Kinkade paints a complete and perfect picture of his audience. The public that buys his work can’t be bothered with art or the world. Such things mean nothing to them. Kinkade’s creations are monuments to the power of kitsch and manufactured art, images that can hang on a wall and affect nothing at all.
Now don’t misunderstand me. I adore all things tawdry and commercial. I LOVE the idea of working as an artist for a big corporation who will pay me lots of money so I can buy lots of useless crap and feed my solipsism. And yet, even to me, Kinkade is an unholy corporate devil. A capitalist juggernaut who is actually causing harm through his seemingly inoffensive “art.” A man who is celebrated, not despite having nothing to say, but because of it.
Perhaps artists do have a responsibility to society. I’m not talking about the idea of doing good and making a difference, but at least to do no harm. If such a Hippocratic Oath of Artists exists, then it’s safe to say that Thomas Kinkade pisses all over it.