Kind of a shame about Thomas Kinkade. I am, after all, getting close enough to 54 that that sounds like a distressingly young age to die. If you don’t know who he is, he’s the self-proclaimed Christian “Painter of Light™”, who specialized in commodified hotel-room-style landscapes, full of idealized snowy country cottages and quaint little olde-timey towns where there’s no electricity but everyone’s warmed by the light of the Lord.
Kinkade was, naturally, ridiculed by art world scenesters and critics, because he was, early in his life, actually a very skilled painter with a nuanced command of color and composition, who chose instead to whore his talent to produce Product™ for the sort of people who don’t know anything about art but know what they like. (Being art world scenesters, many of them were probably secretly seething with envy that they didn’t think of it themselves.) Kinkade compared himself to Norman Rockwell, which shows just a tiny bit of egotism, because while Rockwell’s vision of American Life was just as idealized, Rockwell had the editorial cartoonist’s eye. His paintings were full of people around whom you could easily imagine a real character with a life. A single image could tell a whole story. Kinkade’s paintings, on the other hand, had a lot of light but no depth, no story, no narrative, just images of glowing snowfields or brave soldiers walking towards God’s heavenly sunbeam (presumably they’d left their dead, IED-mangled corpses behind them while doing this, a detail Kinkade probably rightly felt his audience wouldn’t appreciate). One critic amusingly pointed out that Kinkade overdid it so much with the warm, orange, inviting firelit glow emanating from the windows of his cozy cottages that it’s like the damn house is on fire.
Well, people’s tastes in art notwithstanding, what was interesting about Kinkade’s life towards the end was that, as his multimillion-earning franchised shopping-mall galleries began to fail financially in the last decade, Kinkade was accused all over the place of affinity fraud. He had to settle to the tune of around $2 million with a couple of his investors, who complained of being duped into investing heavily in unprofitable galleries. As the Chicago Tribune reported at the time…
“They really knew how to bait the hook,” said one ex-dealer who spoke on condition of anonymity. “They certainly used the Christian hook.”
So while he didn’t preach from behind a pulpit, or have his own show on TBN, Thomas Kinkade seems to have found a way to be yet another sleazy money-grubbing evangelist.
Too bad. When he could have been a great artist.