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December 28, 2004



Hmm, while driving to the movies yesterday -- saw "A Very Long Engagement" and it was damn good -- we passed a smallish Thomas Kinkade retail shop. Believe it or not, I brought up the subject of your previous post on conservative art as regards Kinkade and what one might call "non-commercial art".

Musing Michael

Good art (in whatever medium) is like the Imperial Manchu banquet-a bajillion different courses, plenty of "meat" and "drink" for the mind and soul. One can keep going back to the table time and time again, and there's always something there.

Mr. Kinkade's work, on the other hand, is like a McDonald's Happy Meal. Nothing controversial, everything familiar, readily available virtually anywhere--and a lot of empty calories. Open up a thousand Happy Meals and you'll find exactly the same things inside them each and every time. Go looking for anything else, and you'll be disappointed.

It's the difference between, say, the oeuvre of C. S. Lewis (The Chronicles of Narnia, Mere Christianity, The Great Divorce, The Screwtape Letters) and the "Christians: Good!" (and "Everybody else: Bad!") mentality of the Bushoviki or the Left Behind series. The former consists of reasoned argument, at least tolerably good literature, allegory on numerous levels, and is meant certainly to persuade, if not to edify, the reader. With the latter, the allegory is about as subtle as a baseball bat to the head, the literary qualities are virtually absent, and no attempt is made at persuasion: it starts from the premise that if one is not already convinced, then one is beyond redemption and ultimately worthless.

Matt McIrvin

Actually, I know liberals who like Kinkade's stuff, too. I'm a little leery of efforts to identify political alignments with artistic quality or the lack thereof.

But the fact does remain that Kinkade's painting sucks. He's a lot worse than Judith Kudlow.


And the good news is that I know of at least two Kinkade shops that have closed in recent months. I believe he's finally becoming a victim of his own massive overexposure.


Excellent post, Michael. I think you hit a nerve.

I don't know about anyone else, but I find myself reacting to Kincade's "Sunrise" on a gut-wrenching visceral level.

The sunburst in the upper middle of the frame is unnaturally prominent, and steers your eyes directly to the cross as if the sunbeams were figuratively transformed into a blinking neon halo, reinforcing a supernatural message of exceptional importance. The rest of the pablum painting seems to be a prop to hold the central message, just cardboard to frame the cross. The other pictures Michael posted links to share these same characteristics, putting unnaturally stark emphasis on a highly symbolic, authoritarian icon. I react to this in the same way I react to in-your-face street proselytizers who holler reactionary slogans and thrust posters of mutilated fetuses in your face at anti-choice rallies. That is, the hyperbolic overemphasis of a single central theme makes me uneasy.

The point is that not only is the subtle interplay of the original piece lost in this perverted plagiarism, it is replaced with an ideological rather than an artistic message. The underlying brain waves that are inspired, despite the pretty colors and bright cheerfulness, are not merely numbly superficial, they are crafted towards manipulating the beholder into a polemic view of the world. This is a misappropriation of art to turn it into political propaganda. To the liberal mind, casually viewing this retrograde obscenity is like having your mind temporarily bound by an intellectual strait jacket or having fly paper wrapped around your cerebral cortex. The reflexive reaction is to draw away rather than explore simply because the message is so polarizing and overpowering, as well as unnatural (now there's a word that conservatives love to beat their enemies over the head with).

No, I do not think that laziness of the mind fully encompasses Kinkade. This is kitsch with an in-your-face attitude.


The obligatory "The Village at Hiddenbrooke, A Thomas Kinkade Painter of Light™ Community" post.

He definitely is the standard-bearer of the 1950's-esq ideals of the Republican party, that whole "golden age that we are harkening back to" that has been the underlying trope of conservatism in the last two decades of the 20th century.


Cheryl: I think you have captured my concern with Kinkade, in that it's heavy-handedness really obscures any personal meaning it should have imparted and replaces it with "MEANING(tm)."

The sort of stuff you see in old Soviet and Chinese communist official art. Here, citizen! This is painting with MEANING. It tells you about the GLORIOUS SOCIALIST REVOLUTION! It tells you about the GLORY OF THE WORKER! See that square-jawed guy with the hammer? HE IS THE GLORIOUS WORKER. He is OUR COMMUNIST FUTURE.

In this case it's a different wording but just about the same message. Here, brother! This is a painting with MEANING. It tells you about the GLORY OF CHRIST! It tells you about the POWER OF GOD IN CREATION! See the cross on the hill, with the heavens opening behind it and the warm color selection? That is the RADIANCE OF HEAVEN shining upon the SYMBOL OF RESURRECTION AND FAITH IN OUR LORD.


check out the latest issue of C.U. [consumer reports] back page and see where Kinkade has ripped off Norman Rockwell

Hippie Killer

Great post.

I'd like to add to this somethig that I hear few people actually say:

Kinkade's "paintings" really aren't painted very well at all.

He uses a lot of "stipple," which I have always considered to be about the weakest mark you can make with a brush. He's figured out how to make a handfull pastel colors to play together in an easy and obvious way, and he goes for it. Every single time. It's about as intellectually nutritious as a doughnut--but a really stale, third rate doughnut made from crappy ingredients.

His paintings lack all the viceral impact that great landscape paintings have.

They're also very small.

I suspect that people who find these to be really great paintings have never seen with their own eyes, a really great painting.

Anyone who thinks that Kinkade is even approaching what a really great landscape painting can do is just wrong. There, I said it.

Not to sound like a total snob, but perhaps if the public made the occasional trip to a museum instead of Nascar events, we wouldn't be in this shape.


i find this analasys extremely dishonest. the reason conservatives yearn to de-politisize art is because art institutions suffer from a political monoculture which skews as hard left as it gets. traditional, republican, and market ideas are defined as incapable of infusing artworks. so no, kudlow's ellaborations notwithstanding, conservatives are quite availible to be challenged by art. what they are not willing any longer to patronize is a political culture in the artworld based on insult and destruction. because there is no dissent in art institutions, conservatives will take what they can get. if the best of that is comprised of pretty, devotional work - if their best shot at feeling comfortable in the citadels of culture means to reason artwork as off-limits for politics - that's what you'll find conservatives adopting as a literacy in "art".

i agree with everything else about kudlow. i agree that the mindset i just described is folley. but you twisted it in the end into a cheap partisan shot. which would be fine, but you did it right at the part where your explaination of "why" should have been.

David Edwards

Actually, I was struck by an altogether different comparison.

Kinkade versus William Holman Hunt.

Both claimed to paint works inspired by religious devotion. Both used a palette that was at times borderline surreal. There however, the similarities end.

Holman Hunt wasn't a huckster. While his particular brand of Victorian religiosity may grate with many here, he sincerely believed in what he was doing. He expended long hours of intensive labour over his canvases (one of them required nineteen years to be completed). No less a person than Charles Dickens gave him advice on the matter of approaching art dealers with his work. Dealers bought his works because they determined independently that they could sell them at a profit, and at least one of his paintings, "The Light Of The World", went on an international tour and upon being exhibited in America inspired, among others, Anna Lea Merritt to become artists.

Do a quick search for the works of William Holman Hunt online, and see if you can't spot some more pieces of ... "borrowing" that turn up in a Kinkade canvas, just out of curiosity ...


Till we meet again.
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Inspirational Sayings

I think these paintings are beautiful and inspiring.

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