Alison M. Rosen confesses her love of Thomas Kinkade, Painter of Light

The following is a list of people you, as an enlightened individual, are not allowed to like: Richard Nixon, George W. Bush, Bob Dornan, Dr. Laura Schlessinger, Chris Cox, Dave Garafalo, Bob Saget, Dana Rohrabacher, Thomas Kinkade, Satan, Barney the Dinosaur and that cute little curly haired girl who's in the Pepsi commercials. These people are bad. They are evil. Their names are code for all that's wrong with the world. Should you, by chance, like one of these people, then you surely are of inferior intellect, and you're probably some kind of asshole. Possibly, you listen to Yanni.

Which is why I've remained in the closet, so to speak, regarding my true feelings for Thomas Kinkade, Painter of Light™. He adorns his paintings with those stupid Christian fish, espouses "family values" that I find simplistic and kind of scary, blends art and commerce in a way that smacks of crass commercialism, and yet paints paintings ("portraits of light") that I really like. I mean, I really like them. Not ironically. And not just from afar. I have the calendar. I own the coffee-table book. I like crap.

(Also, while we're 'fessing up, I kind of like that little Pepsi girl.)

One of my friends doesn't understand how I can like Kinkade. When he looks at the images, most of which are überquaint street scenes from a time when things were simpler, home was sweet and where the heart was, and people knew the value of a hearty mug of homemade soup, etc., he sees bullshit. And he's fascinated that people want to adorn their homes with this bullshit, which suggests they value open space and vegetation and peace, quiet and tranquillity, when we know they're probably, as we speak, voting to bulldoze bird sanctuaries in order to make room for another strip mall. So how can they in good conscience (he wonders) decorate their homes with pictures of a past they're destroying as they race toward modernity? Pictures that mask, conceal and subvert what appear to be, according to our voting and spending patterns, our real values?

Studio in the Garden

And I suppose (I say to him) that instead they should just hang mirrors on their walls to reflect exactly how they live and what they value?

Actually, I need to make a correction. He doesn't look at the pictures and see bullshit. He looks at the pictures and sees a past we've sacrificed to efficiency and a free market. I'm the one who looks at the pictures and sees bullshit. I see a little country inn tucked away in a lush, wooded meadow with a walkway and a little white, wrought-iron picnic table surrounded by chairs and a cat and a dog; and I imagine that it's probably cold and crisp outside, and you can hear the birds chirping in the trees above; and it would feel nice to walk into the inn where there's surely a crackling fire and beautiful people sharing precious memories. And I don't think this picturesque inn truly exists or that the light would hit it in exactly this way or that this furry cat and lovably ragtag dog would really live together in harmony. And if this inn truly existed, I'm sure it'd be full of pretentious, close-minded fucknuts.

But it never really goes that far in my mind. The avenue between the real world and a painting isn't instant and direct in my mind, and my art doesn't always have to be political. Sometimes I just like the way the light hits the paint and the blue looks as if it's shimmering.

I'm a sap. Sometimes, when a mother and baby walk by me—especially if she looks kind of young and maybe has two kids, one of whom is in a stroller while the other toddles alongside it—I feel a pang in my heart. There's a television commercial featuring a schnauzer watching TV. At the end of the commercial, the dog looks at the camera and smiles. He actually smiles. And every time I see it, I say to myself in my head, "The dog fucking smiles." And yet I can't help myself. I like the commercial and think it's cute. And though I would sooner vomit than live in a home filled with wicker and knickknacks and thimble collections and little decorative brooms with tole-painted wood hearts affixed to them, apparently I really enjoy looking at paintings of homes that look as if they'd be decorated this way.

Chandler's Cottage

And I'm not alone. Kinkade—who doesn't even sell the original paintings but instead sells factory-made lithographs —bills himself as "America's best-selling living artist" and that same country's "most collected living artist." He estimates that 10 million American homes boast Kinkade prints. In Orange County alone, there are 20 stores—many of them franchised "Thomas Kinkade Signature Galleries" located in malls—that sell Kinkades. (According to Mary, who works at the South Coast Plaza gallery, which she says is the largest Kinkade gallery in the nation, there are six price levels for Kinkades, depending on size and availability. The prints in her store range from $635 to $13,000.) His publicly traded company, the San Jose-based Media Arts Group Inc. (MAGI), is a slick commercial enterprise that prides itself on knowing how to come between you and your money, claiming to have developed a "lifestyle brand based around the personality of the artist." To this end, his name (Kinkade™) and even his tag line ("painter of light"™) are trademarked, and there's unlimited licensing, including Kinkade prints, mugs, cards, screensavers, Bible covers, wallpaper and Barcaloungers, and—in a most frightening Stepford/Levittown fashion—there are plans for an entire Kinkade Village in Vallejo, California. Just think, you could live in a Kinkade painting! (Which is really, really scary.)

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