Sunlight Is The Best Disinfectant

Thomas Kinkade, self-stylized “painter of light,” died suddenly on the 6th.  Since then, his fans have turned up in droves to purchase his prints – though their reasoning is more than a little questionable.

“Many customers bought art as a tribute while others said it was a smart investment: They feel his work will now be worth more down the road, Wells said.” (via Yahoo)

It’s not surprising that people who like Kinkade don’t “get” art, or that they don’t “get” how mass-produced reproductions will not appreciate in value.  But it’s still depressing.  I had a dorm room full of posters of famous artworks like anyone else, but I didn’t think any of them WAS “a Picasso” or WAS “a Warhol.” But, to his fans’ uncertain credit, these prints basically ARE what Kinkade does. Maybe the actual oils are a little more awesome in person somehow. But, for all intents and purposes, “a Kinkade” is a xerox copy you buy in a mall.

Uniqueness and rarity aren’t required for something to be art; if they were, no widely-published literature or music could be considered art, either.  And I hold that there’s art in almost anything, if you look at it right.  However, Kinkade’s work is like a Hallmark card – a mass-produced thing that is created to have mass appeal and to not really say anything — even though the whole point is, supposedly, the expression of some deep personal sentiment.

But not for him. For whatever reason, Kinkade was content to prove to us, over and over again, that cottages are cute, that candlelight is warm and comforting, and that sunrises are pleasant.

I’ll admit, I did like the way he was able to paint dappled light. Blame my relative lack of culture, but I hadn’t seen that done by other artists before, and the technique was appealing to me. But instead of chintzy little painfully-perfect scenes that always looked like they’d be more at home on a collectable porcelain plate, I always wanted to see him do something equally mundane, equally light-focused, but more engaging. Neon lights in a rainy alleyway, reflecting in the eyes of the homeless teenager who’s squatting there. The way the snow melts and shimmers in the light of a burning house. The alien chartreuse of a sky after a tornado, the choking black clouds only letting light in from the north, setting the shadows askew. I wanted to shake him by the shoulders and say “Either show me something I’ve never seen before, or show me the beauty in something I wouldn’t otherwise see.”

Or at least to see him paint some actual fantasy things, like teetering elven spires or unicorn-infested fields.

Or, if NOTHING at all else, to see him paint a regular landscape. No cottages, no barns, no lighthouses, no garden gates, nothing that showed any human presence. Just trees and plants and sunlight in the forest primeval.

Instead of challenging ideas of beauty, or even of depicting impossible fantasy worlds, Kinkade just wanted to show us our most generic fantasies – that the world is as pleasant as it appears, that “the good life” is lived by simple people in simple rural towns, and that the beauty of the world is made more beautiful by the presence of such people.

If he were a “painter of light” as he claimed, he’d paint that stunning and welcoming interplay of light and texture anywhere it fell. Gleaming in oil slicks and sparkling in broken glass and filtered through basement windows onto cold and sooty stone.

Instead, with a metaphor bearing all the stealth and subtlety of a freight train (yet still more deft than anything in his art,) he was referring not to real light, but to a guiding light of inspiration.

Since there’s so little technical value in the art, since it’s so keenly cultivated to present this specific set of impressions, it only makes the work more unrelateable and divisive. They perpetuate skewed and unattainable standards of beauty, of goodness, and of values that are as galling as any airbrushed bimbo in a beer ad. It’s not just that the images are made so perfect that we then struggle to accept the flaws in our reality — it’s that they’re creating such a false idol for our aspirations in the first place. THIS is what we’re being given as “inspirational” and “affirming.” THIS is a positive and pleasant image.

If your home doesn’t look like these homes, your home is NOT an inspirational and affirming place. It is NOT positive or pleasant. It is NOT full of warmth and light and love and grace and godliness. Your city apartment, your suburban tract house, your mobile home, these are all inferior places. The sunlight may fall on your home just as evenly as on as one of these little cottages — but you won’t see Kinkade deign to depict its beauty.

All you can do is fantasize about living in a home like that, in a little town like that. You can just see it now – someday, when you retire from the factory, or when you finally get that big promotion, you’ll be able to live somewhere with that same “serene simplicity.”

Someday.

Somewhere.

But surely not here or now, because light and beauty are external to you.

Keep the fantasy alive. Let yourself burn with longing, burn with a light that others might call avarice. Go to the mall that was built where the farms used to be, that were built where the meadows used to grow. Spend half a week’s pay on a framed copy of a sun-dappled home, and put it on the wall of your own living room. Right over the sofa, across from the big screen TV, so you can see it reflected backwards in the glass during those brief spans of dark between commercials. When work makes you weary and the news makes you scared, and you’ve praised or mocked the day’s proper celebrities, the home you believe you should have will be there, just over your head, like Tantalus’s low-hanging fruit.

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