Part 4 of Opinion, Value & Taste series
Thomas Kinkade – The Most Popular Artist in America and the Epitome of Poor Taste
Divine inspiration can take many forms but few artists have taken the celestial dollar quite as shamelessly as Thomas Kinkade. Since the dawn of time, God has loomed large in the artistic imagination but his representation tended to reflect a degree of reverence and awe. Not so with Kinkade, probably the richest and most famous artist you’ve never heard of and perhaps the ultimate exponent of kitsch. This term best describes works with popular appeal that have a deeply simplistic and idealised theme. A good example from an earlier era would be those pictures produced by Norman Rockwell, as empathetic a chronicler of the American ideal as any writer of his time, but an artist who glorified its homely charms to an extreme. At least Rockwell applied a little humour to the proceedings. Kinkade, by contrast, has applied his skills to benefit a merchandising empire, replete with collectors clubs, franchisees and a commitment to God. I didn’t know He was a buyer but clearly, when Kinkade’s agent told him to reach for the skies, he took it all too literally.
However, it’s one thing to create a production line of twee, romanticised images with about as much soul as the dentist’s waiting rooms that house them but quite another to proclaim Christian devotion as your guiding light. This is a deeply disturbing revelation and the kind of scenario that cries out for the MAD scriptwriters to be parachuted in to the rescue. There are some wider concerns, however. How can such a sycophantic and self important approach assume such influence? What parallels can be drawn with the religious convictions of the conservative right and their manifestations? And to what extent do we see a desire to cling to a whimsical view of America completely at odds with the world beyond? Most troublingly of all, Kinkade’s works appeal to relatively prosperous households with an above average income of $80,000, suggesting that high earnings frequently sit comfortably alongside low taste.