Friday, June 13, 2008

Thomas Kinkade...Artist?

Thomas Kinkade is a commercial artist. He went to school at Art Center School of Design in Pasadena, an institution with a “commitment to teaching students not only tangible skills in commercial applications, but also important, if less tangible, lessons in social awareness and responsibility.” (Richard Koshalek, President Art Center College of Design.)

Let’s face it. Art schools don’t teach their students to be starving artists. Besides the classes in various mediums, students are offered education in marketing. I’m sure that Kinkade’s stint as a background artist for Ralph Bakshi Studios taught him the value of collaboration. Film studios are factories and while a film may be the vision of one person or a small group of people, hundreds of people are employed to make that vision a reality that can be marketed to a mass audience. I should also point out that very few artists in the world of printmaking are a solo act.

Kinkade doesn’t hide the fact that others are going to his licensed galleries to add highlights to his work. In fact, he cleverly markets these touch up jobs as events to draw in additional clientele.

I tried to find out more about the FBI investigating Kinkade’s business practices, but could only find variations of the Associate Press piece by Rachel Konrad. Kinkade’s detractors like to portray him as some sort of Christian Svengali capable of convincing people to make poor business decisions or as an obnoxious drunk hypocrite. Kinkade’s empire grew during an era when Christian organizations put out business directories promoting the concept of doing business with other Christian businesses. If Kinkade used his “faith” as bait, he wasn’t the only one fishing.

As far as his drunken outbursts, groping of women, heckling, and off-color remarks, it sounds like he would fit in well with the Warhol crowd or Jackson Pollock. It’s tough to live up to your own morality or the morality associated with your art. On the brighter side, Kinkade has managed to do some nice charity work. The folks in Pasadena should be proud.

But what of his art. It’s not cool. It’s not edgy. It’s not in your face. It’s not threatening…well maybe to some people. It’s little old lady art. It’s what Kinkade’s mother likes and evidently other people like it too. The list of licensed partners on the Kinkade website is impressive. These companies wouldn’t be licensing from Kinkade if they didn’t think his artwork would help sell their products.

Kinkade’s style hasn’t changed much over the years, but as an artist he has remained true to his own vision. Kinkade is an artist in the business of helping other people sell their product and in the business of selling his own product, which is reproductions, based on a formula. A large part of the formula is catering to the values and faith of his audience. If they want their order to go with a side order of highlights his cracker jack crew of apprentices will be more than happy to wave their magic wands and add just a little more light to America’s most-collected living artist’s canvas. Why should he ever have to touch his work? Other artists design and have others execute the concept. The style is recognizable and the reproductions have built in signature value. In the final years of his life Salvadore Dali would sign just about anything to give it value and make a few more bucks. Warhol would sign soup cans. He didn’t sell them, but I’ll sell you mine for enough money.

Kinkade’s artwork is pleasant enough and I’m not going to condemn him for being successful. It is a shame that he undercuts the people who have licensed his name and his art in the hopes of being successful gallery owners. The problem is these people who got sucked into the gallery racket didn’t consider the value of diversified commodities.

Do Kincade’s paintings contain “a larger moral dimension”? There are those that think so and they make up the vast majority of his audience. Criticism of the artist sometimes extends to a criticism of the artist’s audience, but I can’t fault Kinkade’s audience. Even I find some of his work fun to look at.

My wife read over most of the material presented to our class about Thomas Kinkade and wrote her own short essay. This is one of her comments: I find the whole “Master Highlighter Tour” a complete farce. He should get off his lazy ass and highlight his own pictures himself, especially if he calls himself “Painter of Light”.

I realize that by “Painter of Light”, Kinkade is not just saying that the cottages and houses in his paintings are running up a large electric bill. He is suggesting that his work holds a greater value as a reflection of the gospels of Jesus Christ. If that’s the case, I recommend consumers look elsewhere. After all, they’re just pretty pictures.

1 comment:

Rand Launer said...

Even the prettiness is questionable. I find them as unpleasant as a bad Victorian sunday hat or a McDonalds version of "Nachos with rubber cheese" or an aging aunt with blue hair and cheap perfume.
They are a re-hash of a hundred years of smarminess.
Do they show a unique point of view? Is there a bit of personal truth. A new use of technique. No. All borrowed and stolen.
Worst of all, Rembrandt has been known to be the original "The Painter of Light" for a hundred years in the literture.