Kinkade: The People's Artist?
by Kathleen Lang
You may not be familiar
with the name, but go to the official Thomas Kinkade web site
and you will immediately recognize his work, because it seems
to be everywhere: paintings, plates, calendars, puzzles, and even
Thomas Kinkade, "Painter
of Light" is a busy man. The Kinkade business empire is part
of the Media Arts Group which "manufactures" Thomas
Kinkade products. Media Arts Group is a publicly traded company
under the stock symbol MDA. In 1999, the company had sales of
$126.3 million and profits of $29.2 million. Wow, that's a lot
of art! You can purchase Thomas Kinkade products on line, or through
one of 287 Thomas Kinkade branded retail sites and Signature Galleries.
"Evening Glow," 1999,
is a typical example of his work. Kinkade, who is promoted as
a "painter of light," depicts a serenely peaceful setting through
this small cottage nestled in the woods with soft evening twilight
in the background. You can almost hear the stream lapping against
its banks and smell the aroma of freshly baked bread coming from
According to the biography
on his web site, Thomas Kinkade is one of America's most collected
artists. This fact is not surprising after you view several samples
of his work. Unlike the angst-ridden paintings created by many
modern artists that only alienate and confuse the average observer,
Kinkade's world is far different. The viewer is gently guided
into this cozy scene and its effect provides the perfect antidote
to the stresses of modern life. Attractive, yes. Comforting, definitely.
But is it real ART?
Kinkade's work is real
art if you believe that the purpose of any work of art is to make
an emotional connection between the artist and the viewer. And
this goal seems to have been overwhelmingly accomplished by Kinkade,
according to his many admirers. Some owners of his paintings claim
to lose themselves in peaceful reflection as they gaze at the
scenes depicted in his works. Try achieving this same effect with
a typical abstract painting that relies on thrashing brush strokes
with violent colors...hardly a soothing experience after a hard
day at the office. Instead, Kinkade's paintings provide the ideal
escapism that so many people seek. No wonder he is so popular!
However, art can also
sustain the viewer's interest longer through the artist's ability
to challenge us. To challenge our beliefs and introduce the observer
to an entirely new perspective that only the artist can provide.
In this sense, Kinkade's art, although soothing, fails to challenge
this viewer to discover anything new and mysterious in his work.
So why is Kinkade's
art so popular? Perhaps it is because he offers a slice of a peaceful
life that so many people crave and are unable to create for themselves.
In addition, he has made his art very accessible to his audience.
There are many sites available on the Internet to obtain his work
and he has established many galleries, not in the typical downtown
locations next to well-established galleries, but within the more
casual shopping malls of suburbia.
The average person
may be too intimidated to enter a typical gallery where one expects
to be greeted with an icy "hello" from an arrogant employee. With
that sort of welcome, you might feel as if you have become one
of the Clampetts as you walk through the door! Kinkade's galleries
seem to understand this experience. The galleries are as accessible
as the idealistic scenes that the artist attempts to convey.
Is Thomas Kinkade's
work real ART? Or, is it merely a vehicle to produce high production,
sentimental art that is as real as the art found on a greeting
card? I don't know. Viewing and experiencing art is a very individual
and private experience. Go look at Kinkade's art at your local
Kinkade retail outlet and judge for yourself.
But please don't neglect
the other galleries in your city. Feel free to stride into your
local gallery, take a look around, and say "howdy" to the first
gallery employee you see.