Painter Thomas Kinkade has died at age 54. Kinkade was the extraordinarily popular “artist of light” who managed to turn himself into a franchise, opening up mall stores to sell reproductions of his paintings.
This was the sort of thing he did:
Pleasant enough, but not my cup of tea. Then again, I’m not really into landscape paintings per se, and the small amount of art I do have on my walls tends to come out of the science fiction and fantasy genre (like this Ned Dameron piece for Stephen King’s Dark Tower series). But the main reason I’m bringing up his death here is his position on the fault line of the culture wars, because Kinkade was absolutely despised by bi-coastal liberal urban elites. I can think of few things more unfashionable for a Manhattanite than declaring that they love Thomas Kinkade’s work. Personally I have a hard time thinking of any art work I hate enough to dedicate an entire blog to tearing it down, but Kinkade seemed to bring out the same instinctual, irrational loathing in them that Sarah Palin does.
There are likely several reasons he’s so loathed. Part of it is the fact that he was a technically competent, representational artist who strove to make his paintings pretty in an age which devalues all of those attributes in comparison to “authenticity.” Part of it was his success, his ability to sell signed reproductions of work he touched up with highlights for tens of thousands of dollars that no doubt infuriated starving artists in lofts across Greenwich Village.
But most of all, I think Thomas Kinkade was hated because he was liked by the wrong kinds of people. He was a favorite of the loathsome Lumpenproletariat of flyover country, the people who had the bad taste to work with their hands, live in Suburbia, believe in God and vote Republican. (Kinkade himself was not shy about professing his Christian beliefs, which probably infuriated his critics all the more.)
Here’s a fine example: “Kinkade and the culture that supports him… same thing as Bush. Same thing as Enron. Crooks masquerading as religious men… fool the masses of totally ignorant and self-absorbed Christians… and make millions.”
Many hated Kinkade overtly for having different personal or artistic values than them, but some probably hated him just because everyone else hated him; they hated Kinkade because all their hip friends hated Kinkade in the same way they all read The New York Times and voted for Obama. It’s just what’s expected of them.