“Painter of Light” passes into that heavenly glow

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.


  1. Pieter B, FCD says

    It probably won’t be long before one of the RWS* speculates that Obama had him killed.

    * right-wing screamers

  2. Sean Conn says

    Yes, because an intentional attack on a group of people is funny to everyone. Maybe, I suspect, Pieter and you, Mr. Wagner, should do a little research into something called “humor.”

  3. Sean Conn says

    Not to mention, if you don’t detect the irony in my statement if reference to his, you are the one who doesn’t understand a joke.

  4. otrame says

    I thought his paintings, the ones I saw anyway, were AWFULL. “Hotel-room” is a good descriptor, though I have seen some paintings in hotels that were actually a good bit better. They look like they were turned out in an afternoon and were all pretty much the same. I think he figured out a few painting tricks that charmed some people (nothing wrong with that, honestly, taste is taste, and varies widely–some people like velvet Elvi, remember), and just kept manufacturing the same four or five paintings with a just enough variation so purchasers didn’t notice. Bleh.

    Sorry he’s dead though. As sins go, being a hack artist is pretty mild and even being not especially honest is pretty damned common, so, yeah, sorry he’s dead.

  5. says

    Yes, it’s too bad. Time is short.

    Kinkade basically had one trick, and it’s one students learn in Painting 101: Put complimentary colors side-by-side, and they pop. I guess more accomplished painters resented his success for the same reason really skilled musicians resent the success of bands who only seem to know three chords.

  6. annabucci says

    I like his work. I’m glad I’m not famous enough for you to shit on my work when I die.

  7. says

    Thank you, Martin, for your observation of Mr. Kinkade’s basic complimentary color trick. Sure, he can do that, but did he ever invite people to grow? Did he ever ask people to think? Did he ever reveal some part of himself that he felt was unique, and, therefore, valuable to communicate to others?


    Thank you again, for giving props to Norman Rockwell, who has recently become fashionable amongst the art snobblers. The man broke no ground, but he was at least a champion of the Human in the world, and BTW, a damn skilled illustrator.

  8. says

    I’m not going to hold it against anyone if they think Kinkade’s stuff is pretty to look at. Fine. But it’s helpful to know the distinction between a Double Whopper with Cheese and a gourmet dinner, and that the one is not the other, while acknowledging someone can enjoy both depending on the mood. (That analogy made, I actually like cheeseburgers too much to ever eat one from Burger King or its ilk. If I want a cheeseburger, I’ll go somewhere they serve Rockwells, not Kinkades.)

  9. says

    I wouldn’t say I’m happy Kinkade died, but reading reading the comments under news articles about his death yesterday, I was annoyed by how many people were actually praising his work. I cannot think of any other artist whose art revolted me as much as Kinkade’s- there was something so creepy about it to me; it literally turned my stomach. To compare himself to Rockwell is an insult. Rockwell’s work may have been kind of hokey, but it was hokey like a Frank Capra movie. Kinkade’s work represented more of a Stepford world. I think the way I put it yesterday was that the scenes he painted were as natural looking as a neon sign.

  10. says

    Yeah, seems like the guy had it in for Walt Disney. Chose a rather weird way of expressing it, even by “crunk celebrity asshat” standards.

  11. says

    No, good point. I think Rockwell did break new ground in the way he used his art for often very powerful social commentary, presenting it in a way that people were inclined to actually stop and pay attention to.

  12. says

    By “broke no ground” I meant in terms of technique and asthetics. This is not a diss. He was a kick-ass painter and as an artist I appreciate his pencil sketches even more.

    I didn’t mean to discount his often brave take on social issues.

  13. misanthroputz says

    Two things —
    1. anyone who would call Kinkade a “genius” has just self-identified herself as a bit of a moron when it comes to art appreciation.

    2. any self-described artist who complains about art criticism is akin to a politician whining about her feelings being hurt by what the opposition says about her.

    If you dread people talking shit about your artwork, I would strongly suggest you take up another past=time. No one will ever call you a bad stamp-collector after you’re dead.

  14. herewegoagain_a says

    I got a big laugh at the portrait of President Obama entitled One Nation under Socialism. Wonder if someone bought that painting. How silly.

  15. DanTheMilkMan says

    Hey, I wasn’t a fan of his Motel 6 art either, but he did artwork for Ralph Bakshi’s Fire and Ice in the early ’80’s, so he wasn’t all bad.