Having long been interested in art and aesthetics, I must confess to a morbid fascination with Thomas Kinkade’s paintings. Most are portrayals of settings that are utterly unreal, sort as if Maxwell Parrish visited Middle Earth while wearing rose-colored glasses and then decided to paint quaint little cottages in the Shire.
At other times I’ve thought that Kinkade was possessed by the spirits of Currier & Ives, and while taking mushrooms decided to airbrush and enliven their pastoral scenes using pastel-tints that do not correspond to any colors found or seen in nature. The much promoted “light” in his works has always struck me as minimally ethereal and unbelievably heavenly. For Kinkade, halos are not exclusive to angels — they should surround everything. Here are a few examples:
As you can see, Kinkade is big on “wishes.” This surely would have been of interest to Freud, who with good reason argued that religions are a form of wish fulfillment.
With these things in mind, I was not surprised by Kim Christensen’s recent article in the Los Angeles Times: “Thomas Kinkade Firm Seeks Bankruptcy Protection.” One has to hand it to Kinkade — he has made an immense fortune marketing and selling his works through a network of franchisees.
Having noticed such franchises and visited a few, I had often wondered: Who buys these things and how do all those galleries stay in business? My visits were always cut short because all that light, and banality, was a bit much for my eyes.
The LA Times report hints at an answer to my questions:
In 2003, [plaintiff franchisees] sued the artist and his company, then called Media Arts Group Inc., alleging that he’d used his Christian faith as a tool to fraudulently induce them to invest in a Thomas Kinkade Signature Gallery. At one time, there were 350 of the independently owned stores, licensed to deal exclusively in Kinkade’s luminous landscapes and street scenes.
From 1997 through May 2005, as many of the galleries failed, Kinkade reaped more than $50 million from his prints and licensed product lines, according to testimony in the case. By then, the number of Signature Galleries had dwindled to fewer than half of what they once numbered.
Kinkade was not singled out in the panel’s fraud finding, but it noted that he and others at the company created “a certain religious environment” designed to get prospective gallery owners to trust the company.
It seems that most buyers of Kinkade’s “art” were Christians, as were most of the now bankrupt or defunct gallery owners (i.e., franchisees). Who would have ever guessed that Kinkade’s garish luminosity appealed primarily to Christians or that he used his avowed faith to induce trust? Sounds a tad bit like the Bernie Madoff of non-art.
Having a Kinkade painting (or limited edition print) on the wall must be like having a little piece of heaven on earth.