Or, “In which our author has a thing to say about current events.”
I have a particular–and particularly weird–relationship with the work of Thomas Kinkade. From the age of about 11 on, I’ve been surrounded by quite a lot of his work. Those reproduction prints with the little paint-daub embellishments? First, they filled my childhood home; after my parents split, the divided collection decked the walls of my mom’s and dad’s houses in Florida and Georgia.
As it was the mid-90s or so when my parents got sucked in, it took several years for Kinkade’s work to reach critical enough mass that I started hearing reactions from other people. With the company I keep, those reactions were seldom positive. Sometime around when you could buy needlepoint Bible covers with his paintings at your local Wal-Mart, slagging his work officially became A Thing. Like with most people of a certain type (of a certain age, temperament, and level of cynicism and sarcasm), I found myself turned off by a certain well-documented treacly quality. This mostly came later, with his weird and ugly forays into impressions of impressionism and his icky NASCAR and Disney crossovers. But his earlier stuff, the paintings of houses and cottages and nice gates and things? They weren’t necessarily what would go on my walls (maybe I’ll show you that some time, for context), but they made people happy, including people I love very much. To me, that can be enough.
Not all art has to say something. Not all art has to be representative of process or the emotional torture an artist went through. I believe it can be enough for art to make a person happy and to evoke certain things in their mind. This is why I hate decorator art – it does none of these things, and so it strikes me as a little sacrilegious, honestly. But Kinkade’s art? A shameless cash grab, sure. But just as surely, it touched a certain place in people. And I think that can be enough.
Lines and Colors has a nice, even look that puts Kinkade’s work in context, particularly when you read the comments too. The image I started with, however, is from here . Part two is here. Most of them are… kind of perfect.
Anyway. I get leery and weary when it gets trendy and too easy to slag the same thing over and over again. There are legit criticisms to make. I asked my gentleman friend, an actual trained artist person, what in particular bothered him about Kinkade’s work. He said it was the formula of it–that so much of it was just a pattern, like Bob Ross’s happy little trees, just glurge regurgitated in a series of forms. And I get that. If someone gets massively successful (especially through a sometimes hard-to-watch combination of smart moves and backstabbing), seeing them poop out the same thing in a fit of repeated muscle memory becomes galling and, yes, worthy of criticism. And, um, dude had his demons (which I won’t link here, because: tired of Googling). But, if you followed his official story without reading the more colorful elements of it, it’s an easy formula to make people happy. Large, beautiful, warmly lit houses surrounded by lush forests. Gardens bursting in impossible blooms. Vividly colored windows into an escape. Is it complicated? No, but not everything needs to be goddamn Pollock, does it?
There are legit criticisms to be made, sure, especially since dude did call himself an artist and try to assume a mantle of seriousness and earned emotional resonance and all that. When I’ve heard people get into a slag-fest, though, it moves past that pretty fast into a fit of laughing at anything with such a lowly aim as making people feel good for a little bit. (Good enough to part with several hundred dollars, that is.) And that, I think, is unnecessarily snobby.
And this is unnecessarily long. But, having been steeped in this stuff for more than half my life, it’s influenced me in probably weird and warping ways, and it’s led me to have some Things to Say on a subject that deserved maybe a Thing at best. But here we are. There’s just an element of the man’s legacy that I haven’t seen addressed much. Through a weird twist of my parents’ taste in art (and a trip to Maui where I spent WAY too much time in a small room as the lights were darkened to bring out the highlights in a series of paintings), I have an opinion on these things. And now I have given it to you.