Painting Made Light

Dissecting and vivisecting the uninteresting. When art goes wimpy.

It was the mid-1980s. With work on a how-to-sketch book and an animated film under his belt, developing artist Thomas Kinkade decided the time was right to begin a career in painting. So he did what any self-respecting artist does—he settled on a brush name: Robert Girrard. For those paying attention, this was the first clue something may be awry with this “painter of light.”

Despite picking up and dropping a brush name overnight, Kinkade has talent. His painting technique is solid, portraying pastoral settings, cottages, and even an occasional baseball stadium with precision and detail. So what’s the problem?

Most obvious is his color palette and the gaudy, glittery sheen Kinkade puts over every painting. What may start as a realistic scene becomes something surreal and false. Regardless of what a painting is based on, the scene is unrecognizable by the time Kinkade is done with it. It’s as if nature itself were not enough to satisfy the painter of light’s thirst for beauty. So he grabs something shiny and spreads it all over the surface. But not before he turns the entire scene pastel and forces it to bleed spineless emotion.

Because of this, Kinkade doesn’t fit very nicely in the world of fine art. He doesn’t fit at all. Though heralded by legions of fans as a true artist, Thomas Kinkade is a commercial artist, and he does what commercial artists do with the same precision seen in his cottages. He knows his audience and gives them what they want in lethal doses.

And to his swoon-crazy target audience, Kinkade’s shiny, happy, hackneyed attempts at connecting his works to tiny, disconnected Bible particles makes all the difference. Granted, there aren’t angels dancing in the clouds—or on the head of a needle. Visual representations of God’s hand don’t stretch across the canvas. Golden bricks don’t lead to celestial mansions in the sky. It’s just that everything is so pretty. And with the glitter and glitz marking every one of his paintings, Kinkade is completely removed from the nose-to-the-grindstone, Earth-based artists.

Regardless of how hard he works, it will never show in his finished pieces. The end product—every end product—is so unstained as to appear inhuman. Or rather inhumane, for there is no sense of humanity in his work. No sign of the trial and error that all of humanity must suffer through. None of the gut-wrenching passion, the love/hate relationship of someone with no option but painting. Just a cute little fictitious moment captured in time—a snapshot of an unknown world.

One glance and it is clear that Kinkade doesn’t belong in art galleries. His paintings don’t translate in book form. They don’t even look right on living room walls. They’re more at home on Trapper Keepers, alongside kittens and Anne Frank’s direct-to-jigsaw-puzzle babies-cum-pea-pods photos. But don’t tell Kinkade. Or the millions of people who love his art. Because his “iconic flowers” (his words), shiny canvases, and flippancy are well worth their weight in gold. At least to those who seek nothing more than an afternoon away from reality.

For writers and editors, actors and singers, sculptors and finger painters, Kinkade should serve as a warning. Truth is sometimes stranger than fiction. It is always more captivating.

Published at Scope Press.