Friday, April 27, 2012

Maybe Some Navel Gazing Is Necessary

Chances are that you or someone you know owns a Thomas Kinkade since according to critic Jerry Saltz, his reproductions hang in one out of every twenty American homes. If so, then you know that he recently passed away, and you have probably read articles like this one on the merits of his legacy.
Kinkade with one of his paintings
The fire behind this article reminds me of the criticism that the last Norman Rockwell exhibit at the Museum of American Art received, and in fact Saltz draws a comparison between the two in his article. People were up in arms about the legitimacy of the illustrator being celebrated as an artist. Saltz states that "the reason the art world doesn't respond to Kinkade is because none — not one — of his ideas about subject-matter, surface, color, composition, touch, scale, form, or skill is remotely original." Similarly, critics decried Rockwell's work as trite, sentimentalised, expected.
Norman Rockwell illustration
The difference between Kinkade and Rockwell though lies in their personal recognitions and definitions of their own practice. While Kinkade churned out sticky-sweet images of bliss and called it art, Rockwell strained a human experience down to its emotive core and called it illustration. Navel gazing gets a bad rap it the art world, but when it helps an artist distinguish craft from the muse it's more than permissible: it's necessary.


  1. Hey Nicole!
    I don't like kinkades work, but the fact that so many people do is interesting- and that he knew he was tapping into other people's emotional core, rather than the subject's. Does that make sense? Is that art? People want some serenity and beauty in their lives, the kind tey can relate to.

  2. Hi Katie,

    Thanks for your thoughts. His work certainly has been overwhelmingly popular if you gauge admiration based on his sales record. I also think I understand what you mean in saying that people just want some serenity and beauty in their lives. (Who doesn't, right?)
    I think Saltz's point though is that his work is not actually getting near anyone's core. In other words, Kinkade's work is like a very blurry photograph of a photograph of a photograph of something. So the people who love it, want to experience the general feelings serenity, etc. without having to think to deeply about them/get to close to the raw experience of beauty or peace.
    While I'm uncomfortable preaching about what someone chooses to hang on their wall, I see his point. I do think that if people have a need or a desire for a kind of superficial experience of beauty, etc., illustration is there to do the job, and is not pretending to be other than what it is. So I think it boils down to an authenticity issue.

  3. so most people are detached from themselves? I've heard that somewhere...
    Now, how to re-attach? Real Art, etc? Maybe less TV?... We could go real deep with this one ;)

  4. Nicole, thanks for posting this. I enjoyed Saltz's article, especially, "Kinkade was willing to go the full Warhol."


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