Upon the recent death of the man, the boozehound, the Painter of Light, Thomas Kinkade, there have been a lot of arguments over the validity of his craft.
Everyone seems to be reliving this argument over whether or not he was a true artist, a charlatan, a con-artist and what his popularity means for the world of fine art.
I have a better question: how is this man any different than Andy Warhol?
I get it, we all love Andy. He was a sass-talking, wise-ass who effectively swindled the art world with his mass produced screen prints that he didn’t even make himself. What’s not to love about someone who made of their world exactly what they wanted from it? So I say, Kinkade, he of candle-lit windows, lightening and heavenly beams of light upon sailing ships off rocky shores, too was a great swindler. And perhaps one of the best.
Kinkade painted some of the most sugarcoated visual garbage I have ever seen outside of a 4yr old’s Disney Princess themed bedroom. And yet the man sold millions of paintings. And mugs. And coasters. And posters. And whatever else he could get his saccharine light splattered onto. And people ate. that. shit. up. To the tune of $100million buckaroonies a year in sales.
And whether or not people liked it, his work just spoke to some people. Mostly those affiliated with a little movement called Christianity, but regardless of who’s buying it – they bought it. They dropped major coin on what was mass produced crapola.
This popularity amongst a certain crowd in enough to cause mass eye-rolling from art connoisseurs, gallery owners and museum curators the world over – not unlike how Warhol was initially received from the fine art world in his time. And while Warhol’s are sought after with remarkable price tags attached and his work consistently featured in major museums around the world, I’m not so sure Kinkade will fine that kind of fame. Though I’m not so sure he would give a shit.
Kinkade was troubled by the way the fine art world treated him and turned to booze to cope with the consistent chiding and lack of respect. Though his last laugh would naturally be his net worth, and he reminded nay-sayers that “these paintings may be easy to call insignificant by a critic, but they are precious to the people bringing them into their home”.
Which, I dare say, is exactly the point. I admit. I think his work is total garbage at best, and laughable at worst. I mean, technique wise I suppose it isn’t horrid…but the subject matter, the style, makes my eyes weap from the stench. But people loved it. It’s bad art, but it’s art that makes people happy and if they want to drop a paycheck on a Christmas Cottage figurine set for their mantles, so be it. Are we all so cynical that we can’t even appreciate when art, even bad art, speaks to people? Art is about communication. And while Kinkade’s work doesn’t speak to me, it certainly speaks to others and I guess I just can’t hate on him for that.
He found his willing market and went for it. He, Warhol, and even artists like Richard Prince and Jeff Koons were master marketers. They found the willing audience, and if I may quote the award winning film, Showgirls, they took the cash, cashed the check and showed them what they wanted to see. Money talks, and while the fine art world seems to have become besotted with Warhol and his ilk, perhaps one day they will come around and realize Kinkade just swindled a different audience. And what’s best? Kinkade actually made his work, which is more than we can say about Warhol in most instances.
RIP, Light-Man. Hope it’s open-bar up in heaven.