Thomas Kinkade has been the bane of the artist community for years, much to the dismay of Impressionist enthusiasts. Kinkade has dubbed himself the “Painter of Light”, noting his ability to capture light to evoke the emotions for a nostalgic America. Kinkade’s work helped revoke the forward thinking of the Impressionist era reverting it back to a fine art ‘impression’ of idyllic imagery. Critics of his works note the formulaic marketing tactics his works utilizes to become the most “collected painter in America”.
The result of this technique? His works being found in an estimated 1/20 homes in the country. Deeper criticisms have accused Thomas Kinkade and Co. as using God as a commodity, inciting religious sentiment as a marketing ploy to sell his paintings. His works calculatedly tapped into the very sentiment of “America Values” from picturesque homes in the country side, the heroism of a soldier arriving home or the awe of a heavenly lit Christmas tree. Kinkade’s mass appeal might be exactly what makes him the most provocative artist in the past decade.
Before his death Kinkade had become one of the most successful American artist ‘”sell outs” of his generation. He worked closely with many markets including Disney, the Make-A-Wish Foundation, has been showcased at Yankees Stadium as well as many commercial goods including CD’s and other commodities. Kinkade also inherited the title “Ambassador of Light” from former president George W. Bush. What then is more upsetting to the artist community than Kinkade’s selling out? Or that he was successful for it? Monet frequently “sold out” by engineering commissioned works that met the criteria of specific patron’s desires.
Monet is frequently celebrated in many of the same commercial markets as Kinkade, with Monet’s content mirrors utilizing similar non-controversial subject matter like landscapes. And similarly to Kinkade, Monet was one of the few artists of his generation to die wealthy from his works. So why is Monet celebrated among artist communities and the masses alike, while Kinkade is shunned by his fellow artists? What about Kinkade makes him such a controversial figure? Is the question of artistic integrity dependent on the belief in what one is endorsing? In other words, is it more upsetting to think of Kinkade as being a joke or being in on a joke that made millions? Is it possible that he knew exactly how to play each market? Kinkade endorsed a self image of being a man of god, committed to family and American values.
However, while married he lived with his girlfriend, had been investigated by the FBI for misleading investors in his company and was caught drunkenly peeing on a Winnie the Poohfigurine at Disney Land while saying “This ones for you, Walt.” His interestingly timed death on Good Friday of an Alcohol and Valium overdose calls into question how much he believed in the sentiment that his paintings so notoriously represented. If Kinkade was in fact a stranger to the ideals that he portrayed, then is his ability to evoke these sentiments not the work of an artist? Often it is the ability of an artist to evoke a reaction from its viewer (whether emotional or intellectual) that determines its value. Kinkade incited many strong reactions in opposing directions- in many ways his kitsch scenery was more provocative than many dark, violent or sexually disturbing paintings endorsed by many of today’s young artists.
Perhaps the argument can then be made that it is an artist’s ability to expose the truth wherein his/her title is earned. Kinkade did not portray the truth, not in his life, company or works alike- perhaps the greatest threat that “The Ambassador of Light” posed was not only the idyllic white washing of the realities of today but rather that so many people were willing to literally buy into them.