Monday, April 9, 2012

Thomas Kinkade, Painter of Light

Thomas Kinkade died a few days ago.

I first learned of this from Martha Rosler's facebook feed.  She selected this quote from the obit:
He read classic books but also enjoyed shooting and blowing up things on his ranch.
This phrase stuck with me.  To me, there is a sense of violence underlying the idea of Kinkade, whose "artistic philosophy was not to express himself through his paintings like many artists, but rather to give the masses what they wanted: warm, positive images."  Kinkade, painter of light (a thinly veiled reference to a kind of divine imperative), painted nostalgic, picturesque scenes--Disneyesque landscapes merged with pastoral views of America.  Some of his work was produced in conjunction with Disney and includes Bambi and friends romping about in saccharine landscapes, always with rainbows.  He spawned a cottage industry surrounding his painterly oeuvre that included a brisk business in reproductions, including reproductions highlighted by assistants that are a kind of hybrid between originals and copies.  But what is truly fascinating, to me, is the collaboration with housing developers (at the height of the mid-decade housing boom) who created planned communities that bring to life Kinkade's paintings, with faux tudor details, pretend wilderness, fountains, etc.  These are not just paintings, they are an outlook, a philosophy, a way of life.
Why violence?  It seems to me that there is a kind of violence associated with the nostalgic denial of the realities of contemporary life.  The fanaticism surrounding Kinkade seems rooted in myths of America as a pristine, pastoral place--far from the realities of global warming and the social and economic inequities that define contemporary America.  Kinkade's work is dissociative, almost surrealist in the psychic distancing from reality that it entails.
What do you think?


  1. I have to admit that I have never thought about Thomas Kinkade in that way. I grew up around an extended family who is religious and happens to love his work. Some cousins of mine (whom are very involved in their church) actually posted on facebook that in honor of his passing, they went out and purchased a print of one of his paintings. I've never bought into the picturesque landscape paintings. I've always felt that they are overly nostalgic and have a sort of forced serenity and an overall "fakeness" about them. Please don't get me wrong. I am not knocking his talent, or even remotely suggesting that his paintings aren't beautiful because they are. It is simply a subject matter I've personally never seemed to grasp or relate to. I've never really been able to put my finger on exactly what it is that didn't seem to work for me about his work and others like it. Now that you mention it, you have a very good point.

  2. I found this post very intriguing. I knew of Thomas Kinkade's work and of his death, but I never associated his work as anything more than just 'pretty paintings'. I never would have thought to dissect his work and practice to anything more than just complaisant to his audiences taste. There are examples in history, such as John Singer Sargent, who became bitter with the art world because they expected him to comply to the aesthetic norms and treated his other work critically. Shedding light on his more violent side definitely makes sense. I personally see it as a form of expression and liberation of negative energy; so much positiveness and hopefulness can be draining and unbalancing!

  3. I agree with both Megan and Diana, I never understood the fervor that surrounded his paintings. I thought it was "neat" the way he was able to both paint and light the painting so that things seemed to glow, but that was about it. The idyllic landscapes in his work never made me feel nostalgic or spoke to me on any emotional level...I am a desert girl, born and raised. I, like Diana, was thinking that the violence could have some how been an outlet to balance all the pretty and nice in his paintings. There are two other reasons I can think of as possibilities: 1) When you take a step back from the violence of the act, there is a certain beauty in the explosion, fire and debris (maybe he saw this beauty), 2) he could have been like every other guy I know and just liked to watch things get blown up.

  4. I don't feel there's anything wrong with an artist giving his audience what he or she believes they want. Of course, as an artist, I feel one should always perceive how their artwork would look like to others and what they want out of it. If they don't love it, they're going to to critique it so I feel Kinkade's work is hard to develop a dislike towards it based on first impression. It's warm and realistic at least compared to a lot of other contemporary art. There's not much underlying the artwork, no other meaning other than just pure memories of what a home should look like or what one would like a peaceful home to look like. Then again, I wouldn't think twice about his works or what he really wants us to think just because it's just like a photograph.

  5. Las Vegas has been giving the masses an alternate reality for decades. Kinkade’s work runs parallel with the Disney narratives of the perfect experience. Planned communities also feel very fake to me. Everything is so carefully planned, but because they are all built at the same time they decay at the same time. It is just not natural.