Tuesday, March 14, 2006

Thomas Kinkade- a depreciation...

For whatever reason I couldn't sleep last night; could be the remnant of the flu plus not eating enough... but regardless, my mind was oddly drawn to Thomas Kinkade again.

I figured I'd express here a bit of why this guy's work is so yecchhh to me...

So let's start here...

My Victorian Autumn, the fourth seasonal addition to my series of idyllic family retreats, visits an imposing Victorian mansion in the fall of the year. Light pours through the rectangular windows, providing a glimpse of the comfortable family life unfolding within.

Could he have read what Joan Didion said, as quoted in Wikipedia?

A Kinkade painting was typically rendered in slightly surreal pastels. It typically featured a cottage or a house of 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.

See? The family's not burning! They're cozy!

But that's only the beginning. Take this...

The Lamplight Lane series is perhaps my most popular celebration of the charms of rural England. My oldest, Merritt, was five when I painted the first "Lamplight Lane" painting; soon she'll be a high school graduate. I even included a small rowing skiff, named "Miss Merritt", to symbolize the journey into life that Merritt is embarking upon. Sunset on Lamplight Lane refers both to the radiant sunset that bathes the village in myriad reflections, and to the completion of the final work in an epic series of paintings.

Now let me start out here as saying I have no deep background in aesthetics, or art history, other than what I've read by John Berger, and what I've picked up on PBS shows, including Antiques Road Show.

But I do know that if the artist has to explain this much is pi'ture ain't got much of a narrative power to it.

Which brings me to my main point: Kinkade's work is not expositive, it does not really show us something, but rather shows us something that never was. That's OK, but it pretends to be about something.

Here is a very telling criticism of Kinkade by one Ralph Rugoff:

Yet, in a very crucial area, Kinkade’s work displays a close kinship with that of Andy Warhol, the artist who, more than any of his twentieth-century peers, reinvented contemporary art practice and arguably redefined the complexion of contemporaneity itself. On the surface, of course, their work could hardly appear to be more different. In contrast to Kinkade’s serenely pastoral motifs, Warhol’s art focuses on the circus of the mass media. It played on the mechanisms of fame and publicity, and explored the ways in which familiar icons – whether movie stars or soup cans – are packaged for consumption. Where Kinkade’s art is warm and friendly, Warhol’s is cool and often spiked with undercurrents of trauma, as in his silk-screened pictures of car crashes, electric chairs, race riots, and suicides.

Despite these considerable differences, however, the artistic practices of Warhol and Kinkade demonstrate remarkably similar attitudes toward commercial art and marketing. In very different ways, each artist has rejected that central Modernist myth that proclaims business and art to be unrelated pursuits, and the uncompromising creativity of art utterly incompatible with the profit-driven practicality of business. If Warhol stands as the radical pioneer in this revolution, Kinkade’s enterprise represents the fulfillment of several of Andy’s dearest dreams.

Throughout his career Warhol made statements implying that art and business were analogous, if not interchangeable. While Warhol probably took delight in shocking orthodox avant-gardists by championing the cause of commerce, this was not merely a pose. To a significant extent, Warhol’s version of Pop grew out of his realization that there was little difference between what art critic Harold Rosenberg called "the tradition of the new" (i.e., the avant-garde’s creed of aesthetic innovation and novelty) and the "permanent revolution" of American business culture trumpeted by publisher Henry Luce. For Warhol, in fact, business art, or the art of business, represented an advance over art: in his The Philosophy of Andy Warhol: From A to B and Back Again, he declared, “Good business is the best art.”(1)

So Kinkade pretends to be ant-modern, but really is in his esthetic and techqnique.

As someone who's read Berger, I know that landscapes were traditionally painted in the West so landowners could "visit" their land in inclement weather. In the east, a "landscape" was often a moment in time through the subjective experience of the artist.

Kinkade's pictures are subjective, of course, but denying that, and depict nobody's landscape.

The buyer who unwittingly puts a Kinkade on his wall is having, in contrast to what the buyers of Gainsboroughs did, buy what was nothing, at least representative of nothing that was tangible.

You can see why Thomas Kinkade voices such an antipathy to modernism; not only does Kinkade share a kinship with Warhol, but also Magritte. Kinkade has to create a business for himself publicizing his works to the masses (see here), but "sentiment" and "anti-modernism" are hardly what he brings to my mind; the opposite in fact (I like "McArt" as what he does).

All of this is not to say art can't be a successful business; take Tiffany as an example. And you can level similar charges at Picasso and others, but even at their most crass, a Picasso was still a Picasso; a Kinkade is almost never a Kinkade.

The idea would be pretty clever, it'd be almost worth buying if the subject matter weren't so cloying (sort of a visual Glade floral scent used to cover up the stench of angst and doubt), were slightly more transgressive, and if there weren't so damned many of 'em around.

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