Ken Leighton 12:03 p.m., Jan. 24
- Community Blog
- Normal Heights Through the Blue and White
It's Better To Burn Out Than It Is To Fade
News, the First: fell off of bike today while doing twenty-mile ride and smashed up elbow. Pain intense, but isolated.
News, the Second: wrote partial blog entry Tuesday afternoon, left said blog entry in browser without saving, returned home from bicycle ride to find browser closed by unwitting roommate and blog destroyed. Not his fault, I should have saved my work.
In light of News, the Second, I will attempt a Blog Redux, with minor modifications to standard format in keeping with Timeliness and Reasonableness.
News, the Third: multiple posts share daily Best-Of No-Prize!
I think you should get the picture (ha!) by this point, yes? Also, before naysayers (always saying nay) point out that none of these paintings are for sale in my 'hood, I should remind you of the Flagrantly Breaking the Rules Rule from Blog Post Number One which states that I (as the maker of the Rules) am permitted to Flagrantly Break Said Rules when and if I deem it necessary for the Purposes of Art.
Rule breaking aside, I should probably point out right at the beginning of this that I am not just looking to hate on the Painter of Light (here's the Wiki on the guy, for those not familiar with the phrase or the man). Don't get me wrong though, I think his work is revolting and the day that you see a Kinkade on my wall is the day that...well..."days" probably won't have much meaning by that point, after the apocalypse and whatnot. But, really, not the point here. Thomas Kinkade is a totally fascinating phenomenon. Much like the oft-maligned and poorly understood Bob Ross, Kinkade's paintings are the subject of massive volumes of vitriolic derision--yours truly not withstanding. For many, he is the epitome of the hack, elevator music for the eyes, throwaway art hardly worthy of inclusion in the definition. Yet, for others, he is the American painter par excellence, the man who is able to capture something on oil and canvas that huge numbers of people want desperately to hang on their walls. Kinkade's massive revenues, if nothing else, indicate I speak the truth.
This dichotomy is probably due to the fact that, in the long run, the cosmos is utterly indifferent towards Thomas Kinkade. Look at the blunderbuss pricing strategies employed by the people selling Kinkade paintings as listed above. Are his paintings worth thousands? Hundreds? Best Reasonable Offers? Nobody seems to actually have a real, benchmark value established for a Thomas Kinkade painting. This makes sense if what I say is true and his paintings do, in fact, sit somewhere outside the normal realms of economics and aesthetics. Perhaps Thomas Kinkade is an exception to the conventions of art as we know it.
If what I've just said holds any water, then phenomenologically speaking, Kinkade is a serious point of interest. Adoration and hatred are two very strong reactions, idiomatically opposed to one another, and allowing little middle ground between them. The split is, to say the least, dramatic. Chuck Klosterman says that it's way better for a musician to be loved or hated, just not ignored. The thought being that eliciting any response from an audience is better than no response. Sort of the PR version of "it's better to burn out than it is to fade." If this principle holds true for Kinkade, then he experiences almost worldwide success in the sense intended by Klosterman.
Let's try something. Look at this:
It either makes you want to curl up by the fire with a hot chocolate or, if you're Joan Didion, the picture is "rendered in slightly surreal pastel" and with "such insistent coziness as to seem actually sinister, suggestive of a trap designed to attract Hansel and Gretel. Every window was lit, to lurid effect, as if the interior of the structure might be on fire." (Yup, I sure did bite that from the Wiki!)
Is Didion just the biggest Nelly Negs of the year? Probably not, as she is a canonical American essayist--admittedly known for being dismal--and something of an authority on pop cultural criticism, we can hardly write her off. There is definitely something repugnant to many viewers in Kinkaid paintings, yet the popular appeal of "The Painter of Light" just can't be denied.
In some respects, it's easy to see how Kinkaid makes an appeal to deeply rooted sentimentalities, painting idyllic scenes and championing a decidedly ideological worldview more than lightly inflected with his self-admitted Christian leanings. For a lot of people, Kinkaid creates the perfect world; a world in which people would believe, or even do believe if sufficient powers of self-deception are at work. This sort of hyper-realized painting has it's place in fiction as much as material life, if not more so, as eptiomize by the person of Dan Gregory in Vonnegut's Bluebeard. The phrase, "nobody painted [subjects] like Dan Gregory!" appears over and over in the book to reinforce the notion that Gregory's paintings were super-saturated with more "reality" than the "real" world could every contain. It seems, sometimes, that there is something of that aspect in Kinkade paintings, with the excessive luminosity and the overly saturated colors contributing to a sense of "realness" and tangibility that the material world seldom equals. In some respects, the effect of a Kinkade painting is not unlike a super-long-exposure photograph in that more visual data is included in one frame than the human eye--which may or may not be stuck at 32 frames per second--usually sees in one instant. To many people, this effect must be irresistible when it offers them more of the world than they could ever hope to see.
Whatever it is about Thomas Kinkade that generates such a visceral response--of joy or disgust--in viewers, it's a fascinating and largely singular occurrence in twenty-first-century America. Who else fills that particular niche as simultaneously the object of mass-revulsion and wide-spread adoration?