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

MAGI's commodified art empire doesn't end there; the conglomerate has recently acquired two more tag-line-monikered artists: Simon Bull (A Celebration of Life™), whose deeply saturated, bright-hued paintings are meant to evoke Passion and Movement, and Howard Behrens (A World of Sunlight™), who paints with a palette knife instead of a paintbrush, making him—and I quote here—"a man of many contrasts."

And so Thomas Kinkade The Businessman™ is probably a pretty calculating, repugnant person, and Thomas Kinkade The Individual™ appears to stand for everything with which I disagree, from the way he calls his paintings "silent messengers [of God's values] in the home" to the fact that he gives motivational speeches "on behalf of the traditional family" and his contempt for the art world and modernism (witness the Dec. 4, 2000 Christianity Today story wherein he discusses the "corrosive effects of Modernism" and then goes on to make this horrendously ill-conceived statement: "Modernism in painting is responsible for South Park and gangsta rap") to his übercontrived just-folks persona. If I have to read one more time about how he wed his "childhood sweetheart" Nanette and how he tucks an "N" into each painting for her, I think I'm going to puke.

Like all salesmen gunning for Middle American money, Kinkade makes sure to come across as an anti-elite, anti-intellectual, salt-of-the-earth kinda guy. You could go fishin' with him. You could shoot some guns with him. You could vote Republican with him. The little ladies could do some shoppin' while he takes you out back and shows you his new fishing rod/power saw/palm pilot. He compares himself to Tom Sawyer. A really rich, yuppie Tom Sawyer. He's good people, Thomas Kinkade is, preferring the simple warmth of the Lord and family values to all that highfalutin, airy, intellectual shit.

"One of the most striking aspects of Kinkade's success is that his images are sought after by good people who wouldn't know a Romantic philosopher from a romance novelist," says his press bio because Lord knows you can't trust educated folk. Too much book lernin'!

But, see, I do know a Romantic philosopher from a romance novelist. I'm versed in all that airy, intellectual shit. I graduated with a degree in airy, intellectual shit. And I'm liberal, open-minded and sarcastic. But I also like to look at Kinkades. What's wrong with me?

I think it's that I don't know what establishment to rail against anymore. I don't like the Middle America yahoos who cover their Bibles with Thomas Kinkade prints, but I also don't like the pretentious alternarati who tell me I shouldn't like Kinkade. Am I railing against the Establishment talked about in commercials: the faceless corporate monolith that, apparently, doesn't want you to Obey Your Thirst or Just Do It or eat loud Corn Nuts at work? Because last time I checked, that Establishment didn't exist. The anti-establishment is the Establishment (it has been for some time), so I find myself defending a person's right to listen to Limp Bizkit or Britney Spears just to piss off my overly hip friends.

How did it happen that the edgiest thing of all is the mainstream? And the most mainstream of the mainstream? Thomas Kinkade!

But I don't just like Kinkade because I'm the kind of person you'd think would hate Kinkade. I actually like him in a frighteningly earnest way. And yes, earnestness frightens me.

But it doesn't really cause me too much distress that I happen to like something that's the painterly equivalent of really evil Velveeta. What you like—what really touches you—generally hits you on a primitive, subterranean level. You can justify it afterward and try to explain why you're drawn to something, but oftentimes, it's as futile as explaining why you like the color red or dislike the taste of broccoli. You just do, or you just don't, and that's okay. Unlike human relationships—where your heart and mind ought to be in accord, and, if they aren't, you're basically fucked—art (and I use that term really, really, REALLY loosely) doesn't always require the consent of your mind. You don't have to be logical; you can just follow your heart.

Which is not to say that art shouldn't engage your mind. Good art generally does. But sometimes you just don't want to think anymore, which is where Kinkade comes in. When I look at a Kinkade painting, I don't think; I just feel warm and cozy.

Which, of course, is what everyone who likes Kinkade (which, according to his sales records, is, like, everyone in America) feels when they look at his paintings. This feeling is what he is selling: warm, cozy, soothing, earnest, sincere, vulnerable, whimsical, innocent, enchanting, comforting, simple; all the Hallmarkian sentiments that comprise nostalgia. What's amazing is the way in which he can repeatedly and successfully manufacture this emotion, one which—at the time you feel it—seems authentic and in such a way that a person like me, who prides herself on being too smart and cynical to be manipulated, doesn't mind being manipulated because the Kinkade feeling is so good and so strong I don't care that it's calculated. Kinkade isn't art; it's narcotic. Soporific. Like a glass of wine, or a warm bath, or a backrub, or an episode of Friends, Kinkade just makes you feel better. And like religion, the tacit promise of a Kinkade painting is that you can just look at the image and let it hush your worried mind, and everything will be taken care of.

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