Thomas Kinkade may be one of the few artists whose work will not increase in value after his death. There’s a ton of it out there already and it’s more ‘commodity’ than ‘art’ anyway. Kinkade’s legacy will be debated for years to come despite his persona non grata status among ‘art experts.’
Ten years ago in 2002 I was a participant on a panel discussion at CopperCon 22, the science-fiction convention in Phoenix. I was the ‘digital surrealist’ on a panel of sci-fi/fantasy illustrators and during Q&A time the subject of Thomas Kinkade came up. As expected, pretty much everybody in the room from the panelists to the audience had a litany of disparaging things to say about the ‘Painter of Light’ and his cheesy paintings. He’s an easy target. I agreed with most of what everyone was saying; that his paintings are cheesy and commercial, they’re market-driven and generally eye-candy with little depth. My view was that he’d basically painted one painting over and over and over. After a while things started getting vicious and I had to intercede.
I stopped the Kinkade-flogging when I reminded the audience (consisting of young wannabe sci-fi/fantasy/surrealist artists) that despite Kinkade’s cheesy imagery he’d accomplished something everyone in the audience, and including us on the Panel of Pros, wishes they could ---that is, Thomas Kinkade was Rich and Famous. And who doesn’t want to be rich and famous? Thomas Kinkade’s fame was the kind that few artists’ attain, which is being famous outside the world of art. I told the audience that while it may be fair for us to criticize Kinkade’s style and subject matter, his marketing skills exceeded his artistry. Simply put, Kinkade was a brilliant marketer (and perhaps fraudulent in the case of certain limited-editions) and it was his marketing ability above and beyond his artistry that convinced one in twenty Americans that they needed to own a Kinkade reproduction.
There’s nothing at all wrong with being Rich and Famous and Thomas Kinkade was both. I believe his religiosity was hypocritical and more marketing tool than belief, but that didn’t stop his ‘fans’ from buying his art. The fact that he caused his own death by overdosing on drugs and alcohol doesn’t square with his religious, family-oriented, ‘clean’ seeming lifestyle doesn’t matter to me. I know from art history that many artists have demons in the form of sex-drugs-etc. and it’s almost expected for an artist to be a little screwed-up. Most artists are forgiven for this and Kinkade should be too (except perhaps by those religious types who take this more seriously than the rest of us).
Thomas Kinkade died an unhappy man. Despite his great wealth and international fame he was bothered by critical negativity. Kinkade’s works will never hang in The Louve. So what? Thomas Kinkade’s works, according to reports, hang in one of twenty American homes --that’s about fifteen million American homes! That is more exposure than any single painting in The Louve ever gets! But Kinkade made a choice and he went for the bucks before recognition, so he got what he bargained for and he should have gotten comfortable with it. With millions of dollars in the bank as well as millions of paintings in millions of homes, Thomas Kinkade had earned the right to tell his critics to fuck-off! But he still wanted what all artists’ crave, which is peer recognition.
So let’s take a brief look at Thomas Kinkade’s most important accomplishments:
· He was able to earn a living as a full-time artist without the need of a ‘real job.’
· He did what he loved.
· He earned a shitload of money for it!
· His work was widely collected by millions of people.
· He was famous outside the arts community.
· His works made millions of people happy.
That’s quite an accomplishment for a guy who essentially painted one painting ---over and over again.
Only three artists come to mind when I think of the ‘artistic-integrity + brilliant marketing’ scenario.
· Ansel Adams was known outside of the art community and his works have both merit as art and commodity. But Adams didn’t make any real money with his art until late in life so he was fortunate to have been independently wealthy. Adams was born rich and died rich.
· Salvador Dali proved himself to be a Great Painter before becoming a master self-promoter. So he, like Adams, is in the Great Museums. Unfortunately during his later years, recognition of Dali’s self-promotion exceeded the positive perceptions of his art thereby ‘tainting’ his later works in the eyes of ‘art experts.’ Dali died broke.
· Peter Max took the opposite path of Dali. Whereas Dali was recognized as a ‘fine artist who sold out.’ Peter Max began as more of a ‘commercial artist’ with brilliant marketing and only later found acceptance in the Great Museums. Peter Max is still with us and still working.
Perhaps if Thomas Kinkade had lived longer he might have found himself on a path more like Peter Max’s? We’ll never know.
What we do know is, despite what anyone might say about his art, Thomas Kinkade’s art made a lot of people happy.
Despite the Fame and Fortune, what’s more important for me as an artist, is that people possess my works and it makes them happy. Kinkade accomplished both and more.
So, I’d call him a Successful Artist ---even if I don’t like his paintings.
That’s the view from my unknown and impoverished studio where I work diligently everyday to create works that no one seems to want…………………………………