Given the recent death of Thomas Kinkade, I had been reflecting on his life as an artist and collecting my thoughts with the goal of writing a post. But Dan Siedell beat me to it with an article called “The Dark Light of Thomas Kinkade.” Dan is an art historian and curator (among other things), and I’ve been enjoying his writings. My wife and I saw him speak at the ACT arts conference at Union University in Jackson, Tennessee last year. Here is what he wrote:
Dan’s writing hits the nail on the head. There’s no need for me to rehash the same message in my own words. I would only add this one point. Evaluating a Thomas Kinkade painting is vastly differently from evaluating Thomas Kinkade as an artist.
Criticism of this much-loved artist can rub people the wrong way. How can you put down a beautiful painting of a peaceful cottage, warmth emanating from the windows into the idealistic forest surrounding it? Honestly, I can’t. And honestly, I don’t have a problem with someone hanging a Kinkade in their home. Looking at the painting, we may hear the words, “peace be with you.” Or maybe the message you glean is “joy is all around us.” And from an artistic point of view, they are impressive. Francis Schaeffer said:
We are not being true to the artist as a man if we consider his art work junk simply because we differ with his outlook on life.
And that brings us closer to my point. Paintings are testimonies. And if someone’s testimony exclaims “peace!” or “joy!” then I’m all for it. At times that is the message of a preacher, and what a wonderful message that is! But what happens the following Sunday when that preacher again only proclaims peace and joy? And the next Sunday? This is where the critique of an artist as a whole veers away from the critique of a single piece of artwork.
For certainly the life of a man, Christian or not, is not all peace and joy. Ask Job. Ask your neighbor. Ask yourself. Or read the Bible—the ultimate work of art along with creation itself. How much pain, sorrow and anguish does it include?
But now I’m treading back into the territory that Dan Siedell has aptly covered. Suffice it to say that we do live in a fallen world. I love the quote by Edward Knippers:
Goodness needs to be attached to the real world because if you separate it from reality what you are left with is Disney World.
I’ve heard the arguments against his work from a number of authors and speakers, but I wanted to hear from the man himself. I did some searching and here are some of the quotes I found most interesting. My commentary now is complete. Read through these and evaluate for yourself.
The concept that an artist would be revered by popular culture is an immediate dismissal of his relevance as an artist.
I see my art as a tool to minister. It is a way to bring comfort, hope and inspiration to people who need it. A painting goes on a wall, and it’s…silently bringing a message of hope and inspiration to people whose lives may be filled with dread, with pain, with anger, with hopelessness.
My goal is to touch all people, to bring peace and joy into their lives through the images I create and I see my art as a ministry tool to share Jesus Christ with the masses.
I became a Christian in 1980, when I was about 22 years old, and I would say that when I was saved, my art got saved. It was then that a very interesting transition began in my life. I started to see the characteristic of light begin to develop within my work. The darkness was leaving and the light was beginning to break forth. For example, my paintings, prior to that time, were very much self-defining and idiosyncratic. They were very much my own expression.
I don’t paint any particular genre or subject. I paint anything within the visible world, particularly anything within the external world—outdoors. I like creating worlds were nature is flowering. I love visions that are almost idyllic in their conception, so to me the logical starting point in expressing the world of beauty is light. Light is a force by which all things become visible.
…scriptures point to the fact that light is characteristic of God and I believe it should also be characteristic of believers and so, in my paintings, it’s a literal fulfillment of that scripture. We can really see light take on a transcendent quality within the paintings, not just as a visible evidence of material things illuminated by the force we call light, but as a spiritual dynamic within the painting. When people see that light, it’s not just the visible light they see, but it’s a spiritual light, too, that really touches the inner darkness of their soul.
When it began to emerge was that God would touch people through these paintings and it began to be obvious to me that something bigger than me was happening here. People would have physical healings in front of the paintings and they would write to share that they had had a salvation experience and had come to know Jesus while standing in front of one of these paintings. People who were in deep despair and depression, got hope through the paintings. People who went through mild times of stress had a new sense of purpose in their lives. People who had lost a love one, could glance at that painting and feel reunited with that heart of their dear departed. These are phenomenal stories so what this caused me to do was to analyze what was happening here. And I began to think about the nature of created communication because all created work form a communication with another person.
So I believe that the ministry that I have as a painter simply a ministry of bringing into the heart, images of peace and serenity that people to the world as God intended it to be, not the world that man has made it through his destructive, sinful nature; a world that is at peace and in balance and harmonious. My paintings are extremely idealistic and I don’t apologize for that.
Many of these quotes came from an interview with Thomas Kinkade by Dan Wooding which you can read at blog.godreports.com.