- Artist: Thomas Kinkade
- Title: Beside Still Waters
- Media: Painting (Oil on Canvass)
- Dimensions: 16" X 20"
- Date: 1993
In order to explore artists who I believed challenged the world of in one way or another—whether it be through their subject, use of color or form, or simply in the theories or movements their work inspired—I think it necessary to set a kind of baseline. To do this, I have selected the works of Thomas Kinkade.
Born January 19, 1958, Kinkade was an American painter who was very popular for his realistic portrayals of idyllic scenes. Kinkade engaged in mass marketing of his work in the form of printed reproductions and product licensing. Kinkade images can be found on everything from throw pillows, to coffee-mugs, to doormats. In fact, Kinkade was so successful at marketing his images, it is estimated that one in every twenty American homes displays a copy of one of his paintings. One of the reasons his work is so popular is because he focused on images and subjects that are comforting and inviting. Similar to Rockwell, Kinkade’s paintings evoke feelings of nostalgia. They remind one of Christmas, or an image of small-town America that they’ve never actually seen, but somehow remember and are comforted by. By the time of his death, on April 6, 2012, Kinkade had established a system of mass production (in which apprentices following Kinkade’s designs would handle some of the low lever work) that would insure his name was synonymous with accessible American art, and would commercialize that art to as great a degree as possible (en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Thomas_Kinkade).
Kinkade has called himself a “Painter of Light”. A term he trademarked even though it is attributed to the English master J. M. W. Turner (1775-1851) (en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Thomas_Kinkade). Perhaps this is just another example of his self-marketing and self-promotion. Similarly, critics have spoken out against Kinkade’s expression of his religion in his work, his mass-production and marketing techniques, and the idyllic nature of his work. Essayist, John Didion, has even gone so far as to say there seems to be something sinister in the idealized Kinkade portrays his subjects. All most as if noting that his paintings are too idyllic, as if something so comforting and innocent must be hiding something. I’m not sure I’d go so far as to say Kinkade’s paintings appear sinister to me, but the sentiments of his critics certainly seem to suggest that they wanted something more challenging from the artist, something that would make them a part of the gritty, unpredictable world we live in.
The work presented, Beside still Waters, highlights the religious nature of Kinkade’s subjects. The work explodes with color, and certainly represents God’s beauty in its depiction of a calm woodland stream; but, despite the lush vegetation, and flowing brook, there is no sense of motion in the work, nothing comes across as being alive. It does not challenge the viewer; instead, it does more to placate and anesthetize. One of the reasons I chose this work, however, is because it was the subject of two reproductions my mother made of Kinkade paintings. Though, in her version she added pristine white horses drinking from the still waters, and then, at my wife’s request, changed the horses to unicorns for her second reproduction. Therefore, the piece will always hold a special place for me.
Kinkade and his works connect to my theme of challenge in the world of art by being the antithesis of challenging. In many ways, Kinkade’s art is to the art-world what cotton candy is to world of food: pink, fluffy, tasty, but not at all nutritious. Kinkade’s work is best left to a viewer who needs a pick-me-up, not one that wants to be challenged by the work they see. And except for his practices of mass-production and mass-marketing, I don’t believe Kinkade has posed any challenges to the world of art, as well. At the same time, it is important to note that art doesn’t have to be challenging to be art. In spite of not furthering artistic expression, or challenging the viewer to their preconceived concepts of art, the aesthetic pleasantness of Kinkade’s work is undeniable.