January 16, 2021

The Wages Of Art


Almost as soon as you open your computer you sense that something is wrong.  It takes too long to load your background screen, or there is a lot of unexpected disk activity causing your hard drive to sound like a pack of dwarves in their mine, or when you open your browser there is some awful ShopMe toolbar added to it.  No matter how hard you try or how may times you run your antivirus software, you can’t get rid of it.

That was the sort of feeling I had the first time I was exposed to a Thomas Kinkade painting.  Now, I realize Kinkade  is an easy target for art snobs, but I am an incorrigible middlebrow.  I have so many guilty pleasures (ABBA, Coldplay, Michael Mann, Tom Clancy, Disney animation)  that spend most of my time as a consumer of art feeling guilty.  My wife, then my fiancée, gushed over it, and said she may want to acquire some pieces by this artist to hang in our [prospective] home.  Without hesitation, I told her that no piece by this artist would ever hang in my home as long as I had breath in my body.  My reaction was that visceral and that immediate.

By all rights, I should love Thomas Kinkade and his numerous imitators.  I am disgustingly average; I live in a median neighborhood, earn a median income, married at the median age, have 2.3 children [don’t ask about the .3].  From the outside, I am just another of that endless torrent of faceless commuters you experience as obstructions on your morning drive into work from your suburban sanctuary.  Kinkade does well among my demographic.  From all appearances he was a talented artist, and from what I’ve read about him, a devout Christian.  I have even seen some of his works that work very well for me, painted before he became a brand name, which have the same artistic effect on me as painters like Theodore Clement Steele or John Singer Sargent.    However, it doesn’t appear you can purchase prints of these “good” paintings.  So why did I, no art critic, have such a negative reaction to this man and his work?


At first, I thought it was because his paintings were garish, but there are a lot of garish artists I love.  Who could be more garish than Thomas Hart Benton, yet I’ll drive 75 miles out of my way to see one of his WPA murals in a post office.  Or who could have a color sense more guaranteed to violate and outrage the delicate sensibilities of Anglo-Saxon norteamericanos  than the Mexican muralist Diego Rivera?  Rivera’s work has the additional drawback of being as polemical as a copy of the Daily Worker, but I was moved to tears by his mural of the Aviator in the Palace of Fine arts in Mexico City, and Kinkade does not even approach Rivera for garishness.


Then I thought it must be that I experienced his paintings as Pelagian.  I don’t know why I would object to Pelagian art.   Walt Disney had Pelagianism down to a formula by Pinocchio, and I think Pinocchio is one of the three greatest animated movies of all time.  Indeed, my taste for heresy in art goes far beyond Pelagianism.  You can’t be a proper landscape artist if you don’t have at least a sympathy for pantheism, and the hallucinatory images of Charles Burchfield are among some of my very favorites.



I think that my objection to the late Mr. Kinkade’s work is the same as that of Catholic blogger Thomas L. McDonald, “I understood Kinkade better when I started seeing him not as an artist in the tradition of the Hudson River School who went spectacularly wrong, but as a fantasy illustrator like his good friend and collaborator, artist James Gurney.  He wasn’t a Rockwellian realist like Terry Redlin. He was a painter of fantasy landscapes, like Roger Dean with cozy cottages.”

That was it.  Kinkade was painting scenes not from the world I live in, but from the world where you go to live when you Accept Jesus Christ As Your Personal Lord And Savior.  It is a world where everything, even the forces of nature and the laws of perspective accommodate themselves to make everything Right.  It is a word where even though there is a gale raging in the upper atmosphere, the smoke form your cozy chimney rises as perpendicularly as a flagpole.  What makes matters even worse is that I think this world really exists if you are sufficiently anesthetized and unreflective.    I meet people from this world from time to time.  They are uniformly good people, better than I am, or at least better at resisting the temptations of this squalid world.  They don’t waste their time with anime or Quentin Tarantino.   They are happy with Positive Hits Radio, Fireproof, CCM, and Veggie Tales.  So maybe the creepy feeling I have is that Thomas Kinkade is painting from life, not from his own imagination, which would make him kind of a Thomas Upton Pickman in reverse.

Like I mentioned before, my wife responded very positively to Kinkade, and she thinks I am only hurting myself  by subjecting myself to the polluted products of the world outside the Christian Shtetl.  After 25 years of marriage I have to admit that I don’t really understand her vision of Christianity, which is as alien to me as if someone had landed from Mars.   I have this nagging suspicion that it may be my life’s work to learn to cherish and appreciate it.


  1. I used to like Thomas Kinkade for the very reason that his works provided an escape, a sanctuary for me from terrible memories of sexual abuse I experienced as a child in my “Christian” family. So I would look at those paintings and get lost in them, imagine myself growing up in a house like that where all was right with the world. I have since faced those memories, received counseling and have moved ahead in my life. I no longer have need for that escape. I know not everyone likes his paintings for that reason, but for me they served the purpose to give me some sense of safety.

  2. Robert F says

    I dislike Kinkade’s paintings for the same reason that I can’t ever find greeting cards to send that are truly suitable: they don’t speak to truths of the relationships (or world) that I exist within, and so they falsify those relationships (that world).

  3. Robert F says

    And Mule,
    If Kinkade was the “Painter of Light,” it was a chunky and graceless light nothing like the light of Mount Tabor.

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says

      Kincade was the graphic/visual equivalent of the Christian Fiction in Simon Morden’s essay Sex, Death, and Christian Fiction and its followup sequel Where Are We Now?

      Like so much of the stuff in the Jesus Junk Store circuit, Kincade sold the Blue Pill from The Matrix — the reassuring “You take the blue pill, the story ends, you wake up in your bed and believe whatever you want to believe,” with the Fire Insurance policy, Fluffy Cloud Heaven, and Aslan purring on your lap declawed and castrated.

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says

      What I’ve been trying to say in my comments up to this point:

      Late-period Kincade does not comfort the afflicted or afflict the comfortable, but Comforts the Already-Comfortable. And for some reason this is called Christian.

  4. Adrienne says

    I, too, used to think Kinkade’s paintings were “campy”, sweet, syrupy. But I have read his own words speaking about his work. He was trying to depict what he wisely knew we are all longing for – home. He had a not-so-great upbringing, an alcoholic father etc. And a mentor who taught him to “paint the light.” All he wanted to give to people was Comfort. Since that is the great gift that Jesus left for us when he went to heaven I think Kinkade’s desire was, in fact, very wise and insightful. It is not life as it is rather it addresses a God given longing in each of us – somehow we know how it should have been, how it will be – someday. The fact that Kinkade got lost in his own darkness and was never able to achieve what he personally longed for has made me take another look at these paintings and see a man who truly loved people.

    • Richard Hershberger says

      I would be more impressed by this if he hadn’t then turned it into a mass-produced factory line big business, much less one using quasi-scammy business practices.

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says

      All he wanted to give to people was Comfort.

      The Comfort(TM) of “all those thousand things which soothe the soul to sleep”?

      My writing partner has been told to his face “We don’t want to learn anything, preacher. You’re only here to Keep Us Comfortable.”

      • Kinkade wasn’t a theologian, preacher, or scholar. He was given a talent and used it to glorify God and bring comfort, yes comfort, to God’s people.

    • There is a huge difference between comfort and escapism: the Cross gives us the former, and simultaneously forbids us from embracing the latter.

      And, sad to say, Kincade’s paintings are usually infused with a heavy dose of escapism.

      • There’s a horrifying painting of the crucifixion by Matthias Gruenewald — Jesus is distorted, bloody, his skin greenish and scabby. Modern viewers look at it and think, boy, those old guys were sick. But Gruenewald actually painted it for comfort. It hung in a monks’ hospital devoted to skin diseases, to be looked at by people whose bodies were also distorted and scabby. When they saw the painting, they found the comfort of knowing that God had suffered as they were suffering now, and they were not alone.

        To me that’s the comfort of real food when you’re hungry, not candy and fluff that fails to satisfy.

        Here’s a link: http://www.artbible.info/art/large/9.html

    • Thank you, Adrienne. You are one of the few people on here who understands Kinkade and his work. I keep hearing people say that he was an escapist who believed in a 19th century Americana that never existed, or (like Mule up above) that he painted a fictionalized version of the Christian life. Neither could be further from the truth. For anyone who has listened to Kinkade, he was a miserable man who drank himself into an early grave and he well understood the disparity between the real world and his paintings. What he was trying to paint was his longing for heaven. His paintings have made me cry because I too long for heaven. I gladly hang his art in my home.

  5. What you say is true, and thus, we are actually to blame for the poor use of Mr. Kinkade’s talents. He gave us what we wanted.

    The first two paintings in this post are by Mr. Kinkade. The second one is as beautiful as the third or the fourth, which are by Theodore Clement Steele and Charles Burchfield.

    If he had kept painting as the second painting, would he have had the same impact? The same popularity? The same notoriety? Would he have been more faithful to his vision of the Light? I ache inside when I look at it.

  6. Steve Newell says

    I always consider Claude Monet the painter of light given the many series that he did with the same subject at different times of day on how the light affects how we see things. His most famous are hay stacks and the Rouen Cathedral.

  7. Clay Crouch says

    “Nobody ever went broke underestimating the taste of the American public.” H. L. Mencken

  8. What you say is SO true! Kincade’s paintings are a result of a Gnosticized Christianity, and if Philip J. Lee had been aware of these paintings in his book “Against the Protestant Gnostics,” he would have included samples of these paintings as exhibits.

    Lee is a Presbyteerian pastor in Canada, and his observations are very insightful.

    It also goes to show of the insipid results of the Christian subculture, a “Bubble Creek Canyon,” as in this video:


    Frank Schaeffer in his book “Addicted to Mediocrity,” gave an insightful commentary on a typical visit to a “Christian” bookstore:

    ‘”Today, Christian endeavor in the arts is typified by the contents of your local Christian bookstore-accesories-paraphenalia shop. For the coffee table we have a set of praying hands made out of some kind of pressed muck. Christian posters are ready to adorn your walls with suitable Christian graffiti to sanctify them and make them a justifiable expense. Perhaps a little plastic cube with a mustard seed entombed within to boost your understanding of faith. As if this were not enough, a toothbrush with a Bible verse stamped on its plastic handle. and a comb with a Christian slogan or two impressed on it…..”

    You’ll have to read the book. I won’t go on to give his opinion on the Christian records and books in this typical bookstore.

    But Kincade is a symptom of a greater malady in Christian subculture.

  9. “It is a world where everything, even the forces of nature and the laws of perspective accommodate themselves to make everything Right.”

    That may be the problem. It isn’t fantasy to some. It is a world which really exists, provided liberals are ousted from power, the EPA is dismantled, entitlements are banned, Obamacare is abolished, and everyone votes Republican. Kinkade is to art what Barton is to history books.

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says

      Don’t forget “And Everyone Goes to Church.”

      Just like in the Godly Golden Age of the 1950s, as filtered through Ozzie, Harriet, and Donna Reed.

      I wonder if that is the secret of Kincade’s Christianese appeal — channeling the Godly Golden Age of the Fifties, when Everything Was Perfect?

  10. Kinkade is a good example how realism can more unreal than cubism or other examples of modern art.

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says

      That reminds me of a back-and-forth on the old Lost Genre Guild blog a couple years ago. That real-world-background romances can put a reader into A Wish-Fulfillment Fantasy World more completely and more permanently than the usually-maligned F&SF. Because the RL background makes it more real and more seductive. I KNOW a My Little Pony or chain-smoking Goth ferret won’t magically appear on my doorstep to sweep me away or sex my brains out IRL. However, a Sparkly Vampire Hunk (sparkle sparkle) in a High School just like mine is another thing entirely.

      • And let’s not forget the infamous paper-hanger with the funny mustache who was a realist painter on the side, who later in life persecuted modernist artists for what he called “infidel art”.

        • Headless Unicorn Guy says

          That’s a stretch, Ox.

          And this is coming from the same guy who invokes Godwin’s Law like Chuck Smith used to denounce Star Wars.

  11. As an artist myself, it kills me when I see an artist who becomes an industry.
    The question arises, is it still art or just a consumable “designed with your mind in mind”?
    The Christian paraphernalia industry itself upsets me too. The Jesus junk industry has taken the sacred and turned it into so much reproducible junk.

    Like you, it hurts me to look at the second painting and compare it to the first. I guess, as an artist, it often comes down to being honest to your vision, your beliefs, or prostituting your gift. It’s sad to say many times the world forces us to do just that and, in that act of selling out, we lose a chunk of ourselves.

    Reading your post forces me to have some sympathy for Kinkade but it doesn’t eliminate the nausea that arises in me when I look at his “Painter of Light” works. They are painted for those viewers who don’t really like to think about what they are looking at. I guess that’s why he was such a big hit among conservatives.

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says

      Reading your post forces me to have some sympathy for Kinkade but it doesn’t eliminate the nausea that arises in me when I look at his “Painter of Light” works. They are painted for those viewers who don’t really like to think about what they are looking at.

      In other words, Kincade painted fanservice of the most obvious sort. Like Left Behind and Christianese fiction, presenting what Simon Morden called “Fantasy Christianity” and “Fantasy Reality”. Like Twilight and realistic-background romances, all the more insidious because its fantasy is cloaked in apparent reality, servicing the reader/viewer with constant reassurance that they are right. “You are Right, Dear Viewer; Just Like You, Dear Viewer; NO Contaminaton of Those Heathen, Dear Viewer; etc.”

      And it shows in comparison of early- to late-period Kincade. He found a formula that sold, tunnel-visioned down into it, and his art stagnated into “Formula of Light” as his sales soared. At the end, he was having ghost-artists crank them out on an assembly-line.

      • I’m guessing that’s why he started drinking. He’d lost his soul to profit and the true artist within him had been killed by the god of maudlin…

        • Headless Unicorn Guy says

          There is another artist who was known for light effects and jewel-tones similar to Kincade — the legendary SF cover artist and illustrator Frank Kelly Freas (who I had the privilege of meeting and running into at several local SF cons). And I keep wondering what the difference was.

          I think it was that Freas’s “paintings of light” expressed a sense of wonder of fantastic places, imaginary creatures, and adventures among time and space. Wondrous things. Whereas Kincade seems to be expressing “go to sleep, pleasant daydreams, and warm feelies all around.” Freas had that Sense-of-Wonder; Kincade didn’t.

          • I know of Kelly Freas. I respect his work. His work made you think. The famous robot looking puzzled after killing the little human with the tip of his finger is a favorite of mine. “You poke a hole in them and they die?”

          • Headless Unicorn Guy says

            You should have met him in person. A short, pixy-like man with an impish sense of humor.

            Lotsa filksongs written about him, of which my two faves are “Sketchpad Underneath His Arm” and “The Postman Who Never Returned”.

  12. Radagast says

    I know very little of art history, or categories or flavors (History is my thing) but I have seen some of Kinkade’s work and it never really resonated… too vanilla for me. But then I can identify with a Roger Dean and all his album cover art, or the various Tolkien calendars because they they stir my imagination of charactersor places I have read about. I love the old renaisance greats for their realism but I never got the abstract stuff. So in a nutshell I was never into the mass produced stuff, but then I was never a Van Gogh guy either. Probably due to my limited brain capacity….

  13. To me, this art is not so much creepy as it is misappropriated as Christianist agitprop, just as David Barton teaches American propaganda, not history. This notion of longing – Sehnsucht – is a leitmotif spread throughout C.S. Lewis’ writings. It’s that aching sense of separation from our past. We enjoy our trips to Lake Woebegone, or Mayberry, or Tolkien’s shire because they manufacture an idyllic past world for ourselves to dwell in; Lewis called it “a desire for something that has never actually appeared in our experience.” This is the Christianese dream, trying to retrieve the way things “used to be”. “Why do you seek the living among the dead?” We’re looking for him in the wrong place; when we fixate on a utopian past, it turns into our idol. Our longings are intended as seeds of grace, planted to propel us forward towards the Son, as St. Paul groans for his heavenly dwelling. As Lewis notes ,“our Father refreshes us on the journey with some pleasant inns, but will not encourage us to mistake them as home.” Life brings precious memories, but there is no such thing as nostalgia for Jesus.

    • “…there is no such thing as nostalgia for Jesus

      unfortunately, there is no such word in the English language that correctly expresses the Portuguese word saudade. Rather loosely, it could be translated “nostalgia”, and it is a popiular word used by ex-pat Brazilians to describe their longing to return to Brazil, but it has a wider application. You can have saudade for a person, or for a bicycle, or for something you have never experienced. It is the perfect word to describe the feeling I had as a young boy, reading Tolkien and Lewis, and smelling the winds from another world, heavy with the rains of Rhovanion and redolent with the aroma of the pines of the Lantern Waste.

      Saudade is the perfect word to use to describe this feeling.

      In Orthodoxy we have iconography to make Paradise present to us. In the presence of the truly great icons, the feeling is similar to this.

      • About saudade: I think you have to spend a lot of time listening to both Portuguese and Brazilian music (and/or music from the Cape Verde Islands, Angola etc. – former Portuguese colonies) to get a true sense of what saudade means.

        But hey, I know that’s a relatively arcane pursuit, and not easy, given the language and all.

        It works for me, though!

    • Ichabod — I’ve always found Lewis’s ideas of “joy” — sehnsucht is a good word for it — compelling. The problem with Kinkaid’s painting is that, if that was what he was aiming for, he doesn’t succeed. To me at least his popular pictures are more nightmarish — garish colors. eerie glows, unidentifiable settings and seasons. Norman Rockwell does a much better job of “nostalgia,” and some of the Pre-Raphaelites, especially Waterhouse and Holman Hunt, capture the ideal of lush nature in the same way some sections of the Narnia Chronicles do. And you’re right — the Christian life doesn’t allow us to spend long in comfortable dreams; but since Rockwell and the Pre-Raphaelites are dealing with reality, I can appreciate them as someone else’s window on the real world.

  14. Even Lake Wobegon and Mayberry had their less than perfect sides. There’s been divorce in Lake Wobegon and drunkenness in Mayberry, making both places slightly less than ideal. Which brings me to the problem with Kinkade. His world was always idyllic and perfect. Maybe a little too perfect and too idyllic, There simply were no flaws at all. Even Rockwell had scenes that were idyllic but had something that gave the image a little bit of flawed humanity. Kinkade’s world was simply too perfect.

    • Norman Rockwell was a master illustrator. Thomas Kinkade was sold to the public as a master. There is a difference between earning a reputation and having a spin artist make one for you.
      Kinkade’s art will eventually fade into the aisles of Goodwills and junk stores along with all of the other quaint prints of farms and barns and happy trees…but sadly it will probably remain in the catalogs of the “christian” marketplace for some time.

      • Headless Unicorn Guy says

        In a previous IMonk from the archives (10/25/2010), the subject of Kincaid vs Rockwell also came up. Here’s one of my comments from that thread on Kincaid vs Rockwell:

        One major difference between Rockwell and Kincaid is that Rockwell’s works that have shown staying power (mostly Saturday Evening Post covers) all have PEOPLE front-and-center. Realistic-looking people, everyday people, ordinary people, not Celebrity clones. In a classic Norman Rockwell piece, ordinary people — often caught mid-action in candid poses — are the subject.

        While in Thomas Kincade’s most prominent works, there are NO people in sight. None. Just the inexplicable glow from the windows of the Picturesque Winter Cottage. Even when he does include people (in some landscapes and cityscapes) they’re just background elements in the far distance. Like the joke about the Protestant Minister and the Rabbi comparing visions of each other’s Heaven — “People? What people?”


        Kincade’s landscapes and glowing cottages are still lifes. Still and static.

        In Rockwell’s magazine covers, there’s always somebody doing something. Active and Dynamic.

        The joke I alluded to above was one I heard on the Web (probably at Slacktivist’s) about a Protestant Minister and a Rabbi who dreamed of each others’ Heavens:

        The Minister had a dream which disturbed and exhausted him — a vision of the Jewish heaven. A great bustling city like New York, full of people eating and drinking and working and playing. And he told the Rabbi how much this troubled him, how secular and unspiritual it was.

        “Really?” asked the Rabbi. Last night I had a dream of your church’s Heaven.” He went on to describe a small town of farmhouses & cottages behind white picket fences amid lush gardens and prairies.

        “What were the people there like?” asked the Minister.

        “What people?” replied the Rabbi.

        Kincade paints the Minister’s Heaven.

        Rockwell paints the Rabbi’s.

    • Richard Hershberger says

      “Even Lake Wobegon and Mayberry had their less than perfect sides.”

      Keillor once responded to criticism of Lake Wobegon as being too perfect by telling a story about a denizen who was mentally retarded, and how badly he was treated. He isn’t usually so overt, but anyone who thinks Lake Wobegon would actually be a wonderful place to live simply isn’t paying attention.

      • “but anyone who thinks Lake Wobegon would actually be a wonderful place to live simply isn’t paying attention”

        That’s part of what make the Lake Wobegon stories so good. Keillor starts with what seems to be an idyllic world and then peels the layers off. It’s not always pretty, but it is very entertaining and instructive.

  15. I’m a little unsettled by the vein of, well, snobbery in many of these comments. Maybe it’s because one of my best friends loves Kinkade (and also the Left Behind stuff). And she’s a conservative and Republican, and her liberal friends, including me, avoided discussing the last election with her, the day after it took place. On the other hand, she’s a nurse and a prayer warrior, a loving and oh-so-supportive mom, grandma, church member, and friend, and she’s got your back whenever you need her.

    What I’m saying is, is it really necessary to do the “Lord, I thank thee that I am not as utterly art-clueless as…” thing? Kinkade doesn’t do much for me, and Left Behind left me *way* behind, but I understand that my friend and those millions like her derive comfort and joy from such things. Maybe they “shouldn’t,” but they do, and I’m glad they do. I’d rather see them as my brothers and sisters in Christ, even if I’m not going to pick them as my interior decorators. I worry about the tendency of the internet, heavily encouraged by the mainstream media, to break us all down onto smaller and smaller warring camps, based more on trivia than anything substantial.

    Now *I* sound snobbish, toward snobs! Oh dear. Mule, let me say I love your writing and totally agree with your artistic observations. I just get a little sad when art criticism is extended to people criticism. The Man didn’t say, “You are my friends if you like the same pictures I do.” Not everyone’s tastes, after all, are going to be as perfect as ours on this site! 🙂

    • H. Lee, A) That was my Dad’s name – I like you already
      B) I think your post is quite insightful

    • I disagree. I really don’t see a problem with decrying poor taste at all. It’s not remotely pharisaical, it’s prophetic. I must insist that there is more to art than “beauty is in the eye of the beholder.” There is an objective standard of beauty, and I believe that some things may objectively be considered bad art, regardless of how many people worship it (turned on the radio lately?). We have a consumer industry that force feeds people drivel and hypnotizes them into thinking they like it. Somebody needs to speak truth to power here.

      That being said, there is room to debate on what is or is not good taste. Kinkade doesn’t irk me like some here. But to say “different strokes for different folks” doesn’t settle the issue: it dodges it, and quite dishonestly, imo. Art, music, and beauty are WORTH discussing, arguing, and holding strong opinions about, or they are not worth doing at all. They are some of the most effective mediums for helping us come to understand one another.

      As a church musician, I’m constantly frustrated by the expectations that I’ll regurgitate the latest CCM without hesitation. I HATE most of that stuff, and its popularity in every congregation I’ve served makes me feel like I am taking crazy pills. Something I’ve been coming to turns with is that its ok for me to disagree and debate the value of certain music with my friends, but for whatever its worth, what they like is telling me something about them, and not that they are clueless sheeple having their tastes dictated to them (even if it really seems this way to me). This stuff actually speaks to them. I have found it beneficial to many relationships for me to reflect on why. I think it can reveal where a person is at in life. Can it reveal shallowness and lack of reflection? Yes. But whether or not that’s the case, I am discovering there is something more. Consumer pop (art or music) sells identity and validation, and people are starving for that.

      • Consumer pop (art or music) sells identity and validation, and people are starving for that.

        We need to talk.

        So-called “popular” culture is anything but. It is manufactured culture, fabricated by elites and merchandised to tell people what camp they fit into. All other sources of personhood are being systematically destroyed, strip-mined by the Algorithm in its relentless pursuit of quantifiable profit. Folk art, and folk music, does still exist in pockets [re: the Shaped Note Singing epiphenomenon], but once touched by the withering breath of the Algorithm, the oddest things seem to survive; some good, some bad, some indifferent.

        “An Enemy has done this” Matt. 13:38 ESV

        • Well said, Mule and Miguel (that sounds like a good name for a bluegrass band…). Mule points out the relentless subjugation of all to profit; while Miguel touches on something else – most of all, people are looking for identity, and there is a huge market in selling people fake IDs.

        • I understand that this stuff is aesthetic trash. The thing is, if a person is attracted strongly to art which has had all sources of personhood systematically destroyed from it, what does this say about them? Perhaps they are seeking to anesthetize themselves against something. Perhaps somebody has destroyed a part of their personhood. But I don’t think I should write off everybody who enjoys such manufactured manipulation of sensory experience as a tasteless moron (because this would be my natural inclination). Many friends in my congregation live and die by the KLove playlist, but they are also genuine disciples and very generous, servant-hearted people. They’ll give you the shirt off their back at times when I’d rather stay warm, and so I must keep this in perspective before evaluating their aesthetic preferences. Where we disagree, I still think I am objectively right about what constitutes good music, but I owe them the benefit of the doubt when contemplating why they enjoy what I can’t to save my life.

          This morning, the senior class had their last chapel, and I led a student band in a rock’n’rolling all music jam out. It was Christ-less, trend driven, emotional manipulation at its worst. I would never inflict that on our Sunday morning Divine Service. Aside from the fact that a sizable portion of our student body comes from Pentecostal churches where this fare is the norm, I did it for the some students who really wanted to play/sing with a “worship band” that was competently put together (which is asking a lot in the LCMS). They did most of the song selections, because I wanted them to buy into it enough to work at it. So I found myself singing “Reckless” by Jeremy Camp. I still have soap in my ears and mouth. But I know that one student in particular was personally validated by my concession to use that song. Was it worth it? The purpose of worship probably isn’t to validate as many people as possible, but it doesn’t hurt to make an occasional concession for the sake of friendship.

          I do believe there is an objective standard to art and beauty which should be pursued and this morning wasn’t even headed in the right direction. But my own personal preferences are not that standard either, so I try to keep this in perspective when feeling frustrated by a lack of cultured taste in others. We’re all on different places in our journeys. There’s a time to hold the standard high, and there’s a time to meet people where they’re at. Balancing the two is something I find quite challenging.

          I’m probably working through my own issues more then answering you here. Oh, and speaking of pockets of surviving folk art, I gotta get down to the NYC Sacred Harp sing since I’m living so close by these days….

        • + 1, Miguel and Mule!

      • David Cornwell says

        “We have a consumer industry that force feeds people drivel and hypnotizes them into thinking they like it. Somebody needs to speak truth to power here.”

        Amen. And it progressively seems to get worse.

      • Miguel, in defense of some of those here who do like Kinkade’s art, I think we are acting like snobs. But at least the art is getting a reaction in us. If people like the stuff, then for them it’s good art. I mean, I like Picasso, but friends of mine say they just don’t get it, they think it’s ugly, and for them Picasso is bad art. So it’s pretty subjective.

        But I still have a hard time with Kinkade. I’m a snob.

        • Well I haven’t made a statement either way on Kinkade’s art, specifically, but there are plenty of other things for which you could potentially peg me as a snob. However, I do have a major issue with your aesthetic relativism. I believe that “beauty is in the eye of the beholder” approach is bogus and a non sequitur. Your friends don’t have to enjoy Picasso. But they can’t call it bad art based on their subjective opinion. It simply is not bad art, plain and simple. It may have no use or appeal to them, but that doesn’t render it therefore worthless in their version of the universe (and our own individual universe where all the laws of nature answer to ME personally is the end game of all fields of relativism). There are things which are undeniably beautiful. And there are people who will just deny it anyways. It can’t be impossible for somebody to just be wrong, have perfect beauty immediately before them, and completely miss it, can it? Think of Joshua Bell in the subway station.

          • As Ronald Reagan would say, “There you go again.” 🙂 About your absolute statements.

            But I am going to agree with you on this:

            Art, music, and beauty are WORTH discussing, arguing, and holding strong opinions about, or they are not worth doing at all. They are some of the most effective mediums for helping us come to understand one another.

            And, unofficially, I’ll agree with you about this:

            There is an objective standard of beauty, and I believe that some things may objectively be considered bad art, regardless of how many people worship it (turned on the radio lately?).

            But I can’t come right out and admit it—so unofficially I have to say that, objectively, art can be bad art only from God’s point of view. I don’t always have God’s point of view, so I have to give someone’s taste the benefit of the doubt. Subjectively, however, art can be bad art if I can’t stand to have it in my house. But I’m not God.

            Example: My sister-in-law has a degree in fine arts and she actually likes Kinkade’s stuff. I can’t really argue with that, but I’m secretly hoping you’re right—that objectively there is bad art, at least from God’s perspective. Because I like being right about stuff and I know what I like (or don’t).

            Hmm… speaking of radio, another example. I heard an account a few days ago about Richard Rodgers, of Rodgers and Hammerstein, being treated to a preview of Janis Joplin’s version of Gershwin’s “Summertime”, back in the ’60’s. He sat there expressionless as it played, and then when Joplin’s “Piece of my Heart” came on he listened a few seconds and said, “STOP!” He had had enough, couldn’t understand why anyone would call this good music, or why anyone would buy that stuff. Well, I can’t argue with Richard Rodgers, but I really like Janis Joplin, and I think she was a genius. Best version of Summertime ever.

          • Headless Unicorn Guy says

            As Ronald Reagan would say, “There you go again.” 🙂 About your absolute statements.

            “Only a Sith deals in Absolutes.”
            — a Jedi making an Absolute statement

        • Snob: One who affects an offensive air of self-satisfied superiority in matters of taste or intellect.
          Ted, you are far from being alone regarding this subject.

    • Marcus Johnson says

      We have got to get away from the argument that any artistic critique equates with snobbery or elitism. Of course, people are entitled to seek superficial comfort and entertainment through whatever floats their boat. Heck, my cats are entertained by laser pointers and the twist ties from bread bags. However, there comes a time when we need to transcend past simple, superficial entertainment, and expect something deeper. We ought to be critical thinkers, and that means looking for something more substantial than Top 40 Pop or the Kardashians or Kinkade portraits.

      And, sorry, but it is impossible to critique the art without critiquing the artist as well. Kinkade may have begun with the best of intentions, but as his work became more commercialized, it became more superficial. He wanted to make his work more accessible to the masses and, in doing so, the potential to find a deeper resonating meaning from his art eroded into practically nothing.

      You have to separate malicious and spiteful attacks from genuine criticism of other people’s work; otherwise, I suspect you’re going to be running from deeper analytical discourse for the rest of your life.

    • If I may — here’s a link to the iMonk archives, to an article I wrote on the whole topic of judgment in art. The formatting has changed recently, so there are some odd characters here and there, but it’s relevant to what H.Lee is saying, I think.

      • Oops — and here’s the link! https://internetmonk.com/archive/the-touchstone

        • Headless Unicorn Guy says

          And we went around the same way in the comment thread. I seem to have been a bit more articulate back then.

        • Headless Unicorn Guy says

          Like this comment from that thread:

          Lost somewhere on the Web is an analysis of Kincade that sort-of explains that. Here’s what I remember of it, using the picture at the top for an example.

          * No human figures, or sign of habitation or human life except the glow coming from within the cottage.
          * The cottage glowing from within, brighter than anything natural.
          * The jewel-tone background; Everything seems to glow like the cottage windows.
          * The subject matter — an archaic rural cottage, shining amid the jewel-tone snow, larger than life.
          * The general aura of idealized nostalgia.
          * The picture at top even includes a running stream amid the snow by which (literally) the deer panteth.

          I think the idea is Kincade’s stuff is TOO idealized, harking back to a Perfect Rural Winter Wonderland Paradise (by which the deer panteth), inviting the viewer to enter the glowing cottage and shut the door behind him, shutting out the Big Bad Real World forever.

        • Damaris,

          Wow! Around the merry-go-round again! Well, I like what you said in your 2010 article: “This is the touchstone: God is truth. God is beauty. Any art that skillfully reveals an aspect of God or his creation or is faithful to his truth and beauty is good art. Any art that distorts God and his creation or is not faithful to his truth and beauty is bad art.”

          But I still think that leaves a lot to subjectivity (Doesn’t Picasso “distort” God’s creation with his weird-looking women? How about the medieval artists, with their utter cluelessness about perspective? Why Discuss.:-). Anyway, subjectivity can be good.

          In any case, the comments here help me discern that there are at least three different issues here: 1. The artist’s *intention,* 2. The viewer’s *response,* and 3. The art object itself. I was and am addressing #2 (#s 1 and 3 are beyond my pay grade). The first comment in this discussion, by Amy, illustrates the fact that some people of God are genuinely touched, comforted, and even healed by Kinkade’s work. Therefore, I think it would be snobbish and quite off the mark to say that people who enjoy Kinkade’s work are morons with bad taste. Kinkade’s work may speak to them and draw them closer to God, and in that case, it is godly.

          Now, what Kinkade was like in his personal life, or whether he made millions off his work, is not something I was addressing. (It’s very seldom that any artist’s personal life lives up to his/her best work, and also I don’t care if he made a lot of money, since he didn’t leave it to me.)

          So I wasn’t talking about the art but about the people who love or hate the art. Which maybe is not what Mule was addressing. In any case, I was touched by his last couple sentences: “After 25 years of marriage I have to admit that I don’t really understand her vision of Christianity, which is as alien to me as if someone had landed from Mars. I have this nagging suspicion that it may be my life’s work to learn to cherish and appreciate it.”

    • The trouble with Kincaid’s work is that it is pap. I’m not denying people like it or even derive comfort from it, and I’m not looking down my nose at them if they do.

      But he turned his art into Extruded Art Product and (I don’t know how sincerely or how much with an eye to a ready market) allowed it to be linked to a notion of good old-fashioned values and morals, a safe item to hang in a Christian home because there would be nothing disturbing in it.

      Yet it is chock-full of worldiness, even given that the world depicted in it is a candyfloss world. I doubt there is a character comparable to Murillo’s Young Beggar in any of Kinkaid’s work, even if Murillo’s subject is as idealised and moralised in its own way.

      He deliberately gave his customers the candyfloss, chemical additives, sugar and E-numbers laden version of art, and never tried to give them plain bread or an honest apple, much less the meat of his better paintings.

      • Kinkade’s work here is not art, though. You can buy things to put on your walls in any home furnishings store. You can even buy ‘real’ fake paintings (textured to look like brushstrokes on canvas) of suitable pastoral subjects like trees and a hay cart, churned out by the dozen in China on a production line by workers airbrushing paint according to the template.

        Kinkade did the same thing, but appealed to snob value by calling it ‘real art’ and setting himself up as a guru of ‘what people really appreciate not this modern rubbish’. I resent that he appropriated the tradition of representative art, which has indeed suffered from the trendiness of modern art teaching, and used it as a cloak for what he was producing, which is not representative art but just as much automated product as the Chinese factory stuff.

        • + 1, Martha!

          Yes, it’s manufactured “product,” and is like the bad paintings that are hung in most motel and hotel rooms over here.

          I know I probably sound like an art snob, but hey… to me, his paintings are the equivalent of the doggerel Helen Steiner Rice wrote for Hallmark Cards for decade upon decade.

          Kincaide had technical facility, but he used it to make a fast buck (or two).

        • “Kinkade’s work here is not art”

          Sure it’s art. It’s paint applied to a canvas, and some of it mass produced.

          (Works by Van Gogh and Matisse are also reproduced on mugs, posters, and post cards at times; doesn’t make them any less “art.”)

          Where I might draw the line myself is on the profane, borderline pr0n passed off as “nudes,” or crucifixes in urine, animals being killed (yes, some sickos out there murder cats on film and say this is “art” – it ain’t, it is animal cruelty, pure and simple), photos of people having sex, etc. -To me, none of that is “art.”

          Knocking some guy’s paintings of sweet little moss covered cottages because you consider the genre or aesthetics saccharine or simplistic, and as not being true art, is going over the line, IMO.

          The Dadaists and artists of other art movements tried to break away from the “what is art” perspective by putting urinals behind velvet ropes in museums.

          • “Knocking some guy’s paintings of sweet little moss covered cottages because you consider the genre or aesthetics saccharine or simplistic, and as not being true art, is going over the line, IMO.”

            Calling Kinkade’s work art is like calling cotton candy food. Yes, it sort of qualifies as art, but like cotton candy it has little substance. This is not a matter of being an art snob or an elitist. It is a problem with how we, as Christians, define art. I have seen landscapes and architecture art executed so much better, even within the same genre, than what he did. Too bad, looking at his work is like eating empty calories, ultimately not satisfying.

  16. cermak_rd says

    There are some great parodies of Kinkade works, that do put some flawed humanity (and in one notable case, Godzilla) into his paintings.

    If Kinkade’s faith inspired his work, I see no problem with that. After all, the only obvious Christian pieces he ever did were quaint little country churches and such. Most of the cottage scenes are decidedly secular and would be schlocky in any context.

    Not all religious artists produce mediocrity, though. Coltrane apparently had a religious awakening and it helped him to produce “A Love Supreme”, an incredible work of art that I don’t think anyone would ever call schlocky. Brubeck’s work was also apparently inspired by his religious faith. Bach, Bono…I could go on and on.

  17. I was always creeped out by Kinkade. I think this sums it best: “What makes matters even worse is that I think this world really exists if you are sufficiently anesthetized and unreflective.”

    These two adjectives, anesthetized and unreflective, also serve to describe Kinkade’s work well, to which I would add “sanitized”. Kinkade’s paintings are entirely devoid of life, and come off to me with the same level of grotesque disturbance as an animatronic head aping human speech patterns.

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says

      Kinkade’s paintings are entirely devoid of life, and come off to me with the same level of grotesque disturbance as an animatronic head aping human speech patterns.

      We had a local furry artist who was the same way — technically superb, but something was always missing from the furry characters he airbrushed, like they were perfectly preserved corpses. We used to joke “he must thin his airbrush paints with embalming fluid.”

  18. Invoking H.P. Lovecraft when discussing Kinkade. Sir, you have won the internet for today.

  19. That world of quaint stone cottages actually still exists in the Cotswald villages of England. The towns have brutal sounding names like “Lower Slaughter”, from when they were the center of the sheep-raising industry.

    As Rick Steves often points out, when you see an old, well-preserved village today, chances are that economic catastrophe befell it in the past, such that they could not afford to do urban renewal. By the time they recovered, it had been so long that the villages now became interesting again for historic preservation and nostalgia.

    The reason the Cotswald cottages are still around is that the wool economy was destroyed by inexpensive cotton from the slave plantations of the American south. So, as warm and comforting as those villages are when you visit now, they too went through very turbulent times.

  20. AnnieOly says

    Hmm, I’m conflicted about this one. Because happy-clappy worship songs tend to make me cringe, I can’t listen to most CCM, avoid Christian bookstores like the plague I think of them as, and I really get stressed out over the ‘everything will be just fine if you’ll only believe/study/pray/insert cliche here more’ that tends to be the ‘Christian’ response to tragedy and pain.

    And sometimes I cringe when seeing a Kincaide painting. But what Adrienne said resonates with me too, because at other times it makes me try to imagine what the world would look like if it was functioning as the kingdom of God here now, and it is comforting to think it might look something like that. Although what stands out the most as missing in those pictures is diversity, so in that sense they could never be a true depiction.

    I wonder too, if Kincaide had also created similar paintings reflecting idyllic life in an African or Native American village, or in China, or just about anywhere other than only a place associated with relative privilege, if the negative reactions would be as intense? Maybe part of the reactions are an intuitive response to paintings that have excluded most of the world from them?

  21. Christiane says

    I haven’t allowed myself to go into art galleries in over thirty years. Seriously.
    Thirty years ago, as a young Navy wife (in those days, we had little monies to spend on luxuries),
    I went with my young daughter to Old Town San Diego. And there, we had lunch outside one of the Mexican restaurants on a patio. In the area, was an art gallery, and in we went: I was enjoying looking through it, knowing I couldn’t afford to spend, and then it happened:
    I saw an Acevedo lithograph: ‘The Lizard Man’ and something ‘clicked’ right then in me, and I KNEW I would own that . . . and I bought it with three weeks worth of grocery money plus my own meager savings plus some money I had reserved for a trip into Mexico with my husband.

    I had no business to do it, but it was a done deed, and home we went with the gorgeous piece of art.
    FORTUNATELY, my husband loved it, too. He was as shocked as I was at what I had done, don’t get me wrong, but he actually UNDERSTOOD when I explain to him what had happened to me in the gallery.

    Most husbands would not have understood.

    So for the next years, I remained devoted to the family budget, back to the thrift shops, and the cheap cuts of meat . . . squirreling away money for our future, for the serious purchases to come,

    but there were moments when I would sit for a while, with a cup of tea, and gaze at ‘The Lizard Man’, and know that art is not something you ‘buy’ from a store . . .
    it is something you discover that was already of part of ‘who you are’
    and if you happen to bring it home, it becomes an act of celebration of that surprising discovery.

  22. I should have known this post would go viral. And I’m not surprised that most of the commenters don’t like Kinkade’s art.

    Most of the comments revolve around taste, not skill on Kinkade’s part (and he was very skilled at what he did). And taste is pretty subjective, so if you like his stuff, go ahead and put it on your wall.

    But there’s something else about his art that troubles me, and I really don’t know why. It’s an unsettling spiritual sense that something is wrong or missing, and I caught a little of that from one of the comments above.

    Here’s what I posted on another blog (all right, it was Orthocuban) on New Year’s day 2010, in response to someone else (all right, Headless Unicorn Guy). It was before Kinkade died, so I wasn’t talking ill of the dead like I am now.

    And I wish you hadn’t said, in an earlier post, that “everybody outside the four Thomas Kincaid-decorated walls of Christian Bizarro World knows that “Christian = Crap”.

    I’m not a fan of Kinkade’s art either. His capture of light is very skilful, but his paintings are too literal, and somehow too empty. His paintings of churches and pathways give me the creeps, but I can’t put my finger on why, and I have no art background to build on. But my gut feeling reminds me of the serpent, offering the fruit, offering empty promises.

    Slander. I know. I’m sure Kinkade is a very nice guy. But his art gives me the creeps.

    But happy new year.

    • “’m sure Kinkade is a very nice guy.”
      Not so much. He had some questionable business dealings. I also understand that he had a temper. I suspect that what we see in his work is possibly some of his personality coming through. The facade is just too good, too perfect and thus shows something hiding behind it.

  23. Klasie Kraalogies says

    Every age has its own trash that makes money – it is a myth that things are worse now. After all, wasn’t that part of the theme in Northanger Abbey? Silly sentimentalism has been with us for a long time, and will continue to be. And so will criticism of the same.

    I think one’s taste is interesting in what it says about you, not about the things you like.

    That said, I file Kinkade in the same category as McDonalds, Bud light, KD and campaign promises 🙂 . Almost as bad as decaffeinated coffee and veganism…..

  24. What a excelent story men! congrats for the blog!

  25. Randy Thompson says

    Kinkade was a guy who painted very pretty pictures of places where no one ever needed to walk the dog (if you get my drift), where no one ever sweated, where no garden needed a nearby compost pile, and where no one was poor. From what I’ve seen of his stuff, he painted pictures of places where everyone was rich, contented, and experiencing a level of peace that psycho-pharmacology couldn’t provide half as well. It seems to me that his idea of beauty never quite connected with the real world. Imagine a fusion of Carlos Castenada and Joel Osteen on peyote, with Kinkade’s art the result of the hallucinations. (Forgive me for the drug reference; does this mean that this response is now rated “R”?) Kinkade’s art strikes me as a blissed-out, positive-thinking apocalypse of the American Dream, with imagery shaped more by sentimental Christmas cards than traditional apocalyptic literature.

    When you read “Wind in the Willows,” you enter the kind of world that Kinkade wanted to paint but never quite did, I think. Kenneth Graham tells a story–a fantasy–which exudes the warmth of friendship and hospitality that entails the willingness to put up with the self-centered shenanigans of the wonderful Mr. Toad and, at the same time, the willingness to call out Mr. Toad for his self-centered shenanigans. The by-product of reading “Wind in the WIllows” is that you feel like you’ve been to a beautiful, fanciful place where people (or, here, animals) really are kind, hospitable, loving, and willing to tell the truth to each other. Kinkade paints a world that strives to create these kinds of feelings, but I find it impossible to imagine any possible story to explain the lives of the people who inhabit his paintings. In terms of “The Wind and the Willows,” Thomas Kinkade’s art lacks the glorious disruptive, unpredictable, and somewhat unreliable Mr. Toad.

    By the way, if you haven’t read “The Wind and the Willows,” stop what you’re doing and read it. If nothing else, it will be a “mental health break,” to borrow a term from the Daily Dish.

    • I second that suggestion, Randy. Plus the chapter called “The Piper at the Gates of Dawn” is one of the most powerful depictions of encounter with God that exists in literature. And I also second your point that TWITW contains enough chaos to keep it real (for a given value of real!) — not just Toad, but the Wild Wood, too. The Berenstain Bears this ain’t.

  26. For me, Kincaid has always made respond “Oh that’s pretty.” and nothing more. Doesn’t work for me in any artistic sense, skilled craftsmanship maybe. It is safe, but not much more.
    My concern when it comes to the idea of standards for art (among other things) is that someone from outside sets it and all others assume that it is correct. Being ‘educated’ in what is good just isn’t the same as having actual ‘discernment’ (sorry about the christianese). Wine tasting is a great example of people having been trained as to what is ‘good’ and relying on that rather than their own taste buds. The higher the stated price is, the more likely people will consider it good despite it actually having been poured from the same box as what we labeled as two-buck-chuck. My guess is we all have seen people take a sip of wine, distort their face into something worthy of a comic book villain, “Good wines have a strong tannin taste!” then leave the glass untouched because they can’t stand the tannin taste. These people ‘know’ what is supposed to be ‘good’, but they don’t like it and won’t admit it.

    I have heard people defend art that most consider offensive with the idea that art conveys a persons reality. If Kincaid conveys someones reality then … Or for it to be art must it be edgy? cutting edge? Sexy? Counter-culture (which is it’s own well marketed, standardized within itself culture)?

    Given all my above statements, I prefer art that draws out my emotions and makes me feel verses just feeling safe.

  27. I think the author may have been over-thinking Thomas Kinkade paintings. Sometimes a painting is just a painting. 🙂

  28. For those on this thread insisting TK’s paintings are not “art,” it sure has generated a lot of conversation, which is one mark of true art. 😆

    People don’t usually expend this much time analyzing works that are not art. 🙂

  29. Christiane says

    The Altamira cave paintings (Spain) always make me thoughtful about the pre-historic people who produced them . . .

    was their art simply a way of commemorating a hunting event prior to ‘the written word’ . . . or something more of the human spirit that was allowed to pass through their creative efforts, leaving for us an ancient marker that says
    ‘for a time, we were human beings in this place’


    • Christiane — Have you read Chesterton’s “The Everlasting Man?” He deals with the same question — brilliantly, of course.

      • Christiane says

        Hi DAMARIS,
        no, I haven’t read it.

        Chesterton IS brilliant, I agree,
        and I would very much like to see what he has written on the topic. Thanks for the tip.

  30. I find it interesting which posts get the most comments. I think that those posts where everyone can have an opinion are likely to generate more comments, which is what we are seeing here.

  31. SopwithCamel says

    Probably the discussion has moved on now–I’m always late–but I have a question for those who think Thomas Kinkade’s work is objectively bad art: IF we knew that his intention was to portray, by means of subtlety, the garish horror of a world that is too perfect…would the work suddenly be good?

  32. I went to an art museum with some artist friends who are definitely down on TK. Not “art.” Okay, I get it. We’d had conversations on the subject. Mediocrity, at best.

    However, a few moments in the contemporary section, looking at random piles of whatever–presented as “art” in an art museum, I fairly longed to find the Thomas Kinkade gallery!

    Not really. A commercial mediocrity of which I am no fan.

    But creepy? Fuhgeddaboudit. That’s beyond the pale, imho. But spending the amount of time it takes to write a long blog post explaining why this departed soul is so very, very bad, strikes me as downright…


    • I’m kinda with Marv on this one. I almost hate to admit it here at this site, but I kinda liked what Kinkade was representing. Maybe everyone’s criticisms here point us toward a world ironically like Kinkade’s, one where we can get out of the cold and darkness, sit around the fire and warm ourselves together, and where we are no longer criticized for our schlocky attempts at art. Maybe Kinkade was trying to imagine Jesus and His light and hope, and what he painted was the best he could come up with.

  33. Mr. Poet says

    I never liked Kinkade’s art on a whole. Out of his entire repertoire, I think I saw two pics I liked. One was a carnival scene on a Kinkade calendar. His method of painting was absolutely perfect for that scene. The other was a scene of a lighthouse on a tractor trailer toy. I liked that and considered buying it for my father because he used to drive trucks and loved lighthouses.

    I don’t like criticisms of Kinkade’s work mainly because what alternative am I presented? Usually, it seems I’m given this alternative: the only real art is filth and trash and blight. Or it is art that is so real, it can’t be better. For the former kind of art, it is like saying that a sidewalk isn’t a sidewalk unless there is a crack in it, litter on it, grass growing out of its cracks, a poor person walking on it or sleeping on it…you name it. It can’t be clean and bright, because that’s fake. It has to be dingy and littered and blighted.

    For the latter kind of art, take a nature scene. It has to be natural nature…enjoyed by a person depicted in the scene, perhaps, but it cannot be a tended garden. It has to be the wild. Granted, I think the gardens of Versailles are ridiculous (just as I don’t like Kinkade’s work). In other words, it has to be, if there is such a thing, too real, instead of taking what is real and imagining something better.

    • There is in fact a perfectly good school of American representational art which runs from colonial days up through the various illustrators of the last century and onward. These guys typically were very strong in technique (Rockwell is awesome). My big issue with Kinkade is that there’s a badness in his technique which seems to be created out of his manifest sentimentality. If you don’t like that in your pictures you can complain about Rockwell’s subjects at great length, but it never seems to get in the way of the painterliness of his work. By contrast Kinkade’s work is sloppy. Here’s a comparable commercial image of a sweet train station scene, and while it is in its way as sentimentalized (and is not after all making much of a claim to great art or even great virtue) it’s better executed.

      It’s the comparison between his own works that is especially galling. There’s nothing strikingly original in any of his work, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing; but his non-“painter of light” images have a freshness and honesty which his (mostly later) works not only lack, but spurn. It’s hard not to draw the conclusion that at some point he realized that he could make his mark better by turning to a specifically overheated, overly sentimental, distorted and sloppy style.

  34. Headless Unicorn Guy says

    Just going back to the Kincade picture at the top and checking the railroad aspects of it.
    * The depot (station building) has a definite Kincade Cottage/Keebler Elf look to it.
    * Snow on the ground, Xmas wreath barely visible, probably a holiday scene.
    * Locomotive appears to be a generic USRA locomotive, mass-produced to a standard design during WW1 and common through the Twenties and Thirties on US rails.
    * Locomotive drivers (what we can see of them) appear a bit small, more like a freight engine than a passenger one. Just from that, I’d place it as a USRA Mikado, a medium-size, general-purpose freight engine. Probably modeled from a model.
    * The consist the engine is pulling is four or five day coaches, without any head-end cars. That’s more typical of an East Coast big-city commuter train of the Thirties and Forties, which doesn’t mesh with the pristine mountain background.
    * The kids in the right foreground are fairly-generic “White Christmasy”, could be anywhere from the Thirties to the Fifties, though the Gatsby cap on the one on the right is more typical of pre-WW2.
    * The water tower behind the kids is an old wooden one, more typical of the late 19th Century. The spout appears to come from the TOP of the tank instead of the bottom as it should. Also seems to be too far from the track to be practical. In 20th Century steam railroads of the size implied by the train, it would be more common to have no spout on the water tower and a standpipe on the platform between the tracks to re-water the locomotives.

    Then I was able to bring up a larger hi-res version of the pic:
    * The station sign reads “Lionelville” and there’s a Santa Claus in the background crowd.
    * The road name on the loco’s tender (fuel/feedwater car) is “Lionel Lines”, the default road name of the famous O-gauge toy train maker.
    * Factoring in these details, this is a Christmas pic based on the old “Toy Trains Around the Xmas Tree” like you used to see in New York City department store windows 50-100 years ago — normally done with Lionel track and rolling stock as a promo for Lionel.

    From this, I suspect Kincade did this pic on commission for either Lionel or a Lionel Collectors’ Assocaition, for either a Lionel Catalog cover or Calendar.

  35. George C says

    I am a bit of a snob when it comes to films, music, beer, paintings, ect., but there is a difference between my own preference to a painful death over a Brittney Spears music marathon or a Bud Light serving happy hour and the arrogance of pretending to have a copy to the Official Objective Grading System for Art and Beauty.

    Just because we may believe that there is an objective ideal does not mean our tastes conform to it. Most things are an acquired taste. Just look at the physical standards of beauty for women in different cultures.

    All creation is about intent. Did the work do what the author intended? We can certainly call a work a failure if we know the aim of the author and the results of the work, but there is so much wrapped up in why people enjoy or hate something that, in general, I try to express my own appreciation or disgust as an opinion that nobody else needs to adopt.

  36. Headless Unicorn Guy says

    And now, the Ultimate Capper to this thread —
    My Little Pony as if done by Thomas Kincade:

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