Social Question

filmfann's avatar

Was Thomas Kinkade a talented painter, or overmarketed hack?

Asked by filmfann (47636points) April 7th, 2012

The appreciation of art is subjective, but I think Thomas Kinkade was pretty good at mixing light, sentamentality, and spiritualism. Others complain that he wasn’t a good painter, and that he was very, very good at marketing.
Thomas Kinkade, dead at 54.
What are your opinions?

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66 Answers

Michael_Huntington's avatar

Meh, that painting doesn’t do anything for me. I’d rate his work 4.5/10

tom_g's avatar

I have a strong – very strong – dislike for his paintings, although I can’t seem to put my finger on why.

thorninmud's avatar

Humans have a few buttons that are pretty easy to push, and reliably produce an emotional response. “Comfort foods” do this. Kittens do this. “Easy listening” music does this. And Kinkade’s painting does this.

I have those buttons too, and I feel them bieng pushed when I look at this stuff, but I’ve gotten kind of inured to having those particular buttons pushed. Part of artistic skill is not just reaching for those easy buttons, but getting at the ones that are buried more deeply, and produce challenging responses. I want to be challenged, made to stretch. His painting doesn’t do that.

JLeslie's avatar

He has some talent and is a good businessman. He fulfills a certain niche market, I give him credit. I don’t buy his stuff, but I probably am not his market.

GoldieAV16's avatar

It’s hard to talk about Kinkade and his work without feeling like I’m “speaking ill of the dead.”

tom_g's avatar

@thorninmud – Thanks. This helps me a bit. I do feel like I’m being manipulated in some way when looking at his paintings. I’m reminded of those hollywood movies that are filled with tons of ridiculous strings and music that is beating you over the head, telling you what you should be feeling at the moment. When you’re aware of the music and it doesn’t seem to be warranted, I get a really icky feeling. That’s what I get when I look at his paintings.

TexasDude's avatar

I grew up surrounded by Kinkade paintings, Precious Moments figurines, and other glurgy symbols of sentimental middle class Christian living. Thus, I harbor an unnatural hatred for Kinkade. He was a talented renderer, I’ll give him that, and a shrewd businessman, but that doesn’t mean he was a good artist, and the prevalence of his cheesey works just makes it worse.

Keep_on_running's avatar

He was definitely talented, I mean look at those pictures. I could never even attempt to paint anything like that – wow.

WillWorkForChocolate's avatar

I think he had some talent, but he was also disgustingly overmarketed.

marinelife's avatar

Overmarketed hack.

GoldieAV16's avatar

I like what Joan Didion had to say of his work:

“A Kinkade painting was typically rendered in slightly surreal pastels. It typically featured a cottage or a house of such insistent coziness as to seem actually sinister, suggestive of a trap designed to attract Hansel and Gretel. Every window was lit, to lurid effect, as if the interior of the structure might be on fire.”

And if you haven’t seen the photo-shopped parodies of his work on SomethingAwful, they’re worth checking out.

Judi's avatar

@thorninmud , you just explained my response to Miro. He stirs something inside me on a deeper guttural level, but it’s not something pretty.

Aethelwine's avatar

I like some of his work.

I’m not an artist, so who am I to judge?

Sunny2's avatar

Kincade doesn’t hang on my walls, nor does Norman Rockwell, but each says something to many people. And isn’t communication one of the values of artwork? Paintings on velvet are preferred by some. People who bother to hang paintings at all are to be commended. And the artists who appeal to them should be given their due.

gailcalled's avatar

I heard on the radio this AM that he earned c. 100 million/year and provided very handsomely for his wife and four daughters. Why not?

@thorninmud: OTOH, I was at the local Humane Society also this AM, for Milo’s monthly nail clipping. All the kittens were outside in their fenced-in playground. I had to restrain myself from adopting three of them on the spot. Milo having been, yet again, very carsick, was the only deterrent.

filmfann's avatar

Isn’t most art manipulative? Is it just too obvious with him?

SpatzieLover's avatar

I like some. I don’t like some. Overall, he paints much better than I do and I can see what the fuss is about. His work is pleasing for many to look at for many.

thorninmud's avatar

@gailcalled I went with a colleague yesterday on a service call to someone’s home. They had a little gray kitten, maybe 3 months old. It was everything I could do to keep my mind on my work and off that kitten. My colleague was, to my utter amazement, completely immune to the kitten’s charms.

digitalimpression's avatar

His paintings are amazing. Putting his paintings under a dimmer light and marveling at how the glow emits from all the spots he wanted it to was part of the reason I began to appreciate art more. His paintings brought a lot of people into the art world. People actually knew the name of a painter again. He brought attention not only to his work, but also to art and painting in general.

Can you blame him for marketing? I don’t think so. Everyone wants money… He wouldn’t make the money if people didn’t buy it. People bought it because they liked it.

I’m not an artist.. but the dislike for Kinkade I’ve seen seems to be more of the pedantic, political, and/or jealous variety.

Perhaps it’s because I’m not an artist that I can appreciate his work more.

KateTheGreat's avatar

I have seen Thomas Kincade toilet paper before, he was definitely an over-marketed hack.

DominicX's avatar

For once I think I actually agree with @digitalimpression on something :P

Or maybe it’s just because my mom was a fan of Kinkade, actually met and spoke with him, and had several of his paintings, though not a lot. I mean, yes, his work was maybe a little overmarketed, and I don’t like all of it that I see, but I do find a lot of it beautiful. Maybe because, although I don’t consider myself artistic, when I do take photos that are more than just capturing memories, it tends to be garden scenes and a lot of his paintings involve that. I’m instantly drawn to garden scenes, whether photo, painting, or real life.

Michael_Huntington's avatar

@KateTheGreat I honestly feel bad for those rolls of toilet paper. They have to deal with assholes and put up with shit, haven’t they suffered enough?!?!?!

Hawaii_Jake's avatar

What I find interesting about this thread are the number of people who said he paints better than they could, so they couldn’t judge. That’s silly. One can still appreciate good art and not be able to produce it. I can’t paint at all, but I can tell a good painting from a bad one.

As for Kincade, I wouldn’t buy his pieces. I prefer more abstract work.

And as for the mention that he brought middle class people back into the art world, that’s poppycock, and it’s insulting the middle class to say they were unappreciative of art in general before Kincade. Who visits art galleries and museums? Everybody: the lower classes, the middle classes, and the rich patrons. Kincade did not invent the art market. One only needs to visit an art show in a small town such as I grew up in and see the enthusiasm of the local artists and their admirers.

I have two paintings I bought cheaply on eBay. They are not Kincade works or anything like what he produced, but I like them. They are abstract and interesting. It’s quite fun to watch how they change as the daylight comes and goes. I’m just one person, but I can appreciate good work.

gailcalled's avatar

One of the problems I have with the painting you linked as an example is the Whitman Sampler palette.

With a more sophisticated use of color, light and shadow, it might be more interesting.

My grandmother painted this as a memory of the little Russian village she grew up in at the turn of the last century. My mother’s retirement community used it as their official winter holiday card several years ago. Great art?

Hawaii_Jake's avatar

@gailcalled : I like the use of color and the naive perspective in your grandmother’s painting. The trees all look like they’re in prayer for a short winter.

Keep_on_running's avatar

@Hawaii_JakeWhat I find interesting about this thread are the number of people who said he paints better than they could, so they couldn’t judge. That’s silly.


I know zero about art, I just see a stunning picture that someone has obviously spent a lot of time painting. I don’t see the big deal and that’s probably because I’m not passionate about it, but I do appreciate a beautiful picture.

Also, just a general question, isn’t there supposed to be no such thing as a good and bad painting, because art is the most subjective topic in the world? You know, the whole “what is art?” thing.

tinyfaery's avatar

Suckfest. What he did is not art. Art is commentary and expression, he had technique but no substance.

cookieman's avatar

He was both.

I worked at an art gallery (circa 1997) that had an original painting of Kincaid’s from very early in his career. A Boston street scene. I thought it was very good and looked nothing like the style he had come to be famous for.

At some point, he developed his “look” and it resonated with certain people.

It became the horse – which he then flogged heartily all the way to the bank.

gailcalled's avatar

@Hawaii_Jake: _Here’s another painting of the same little village on a spring day. Note the typical Russian white birches and the two little ghosts floating, one in a doorway and the other on a rooftop.

Hawaii_Jake's avatar

@Keep_on_running : In your own post above you mentioned you couldn’t even attempt to paint as well as he did, and @jonsblond said she was unable to judge.

I believe some of Kinkade’s work is beautiful, but it’s not something I would stand in front of in a museum or gallery and study.

As far as the “what is art” question, just use the search feature here on Fluther, and you’ll find at least half a dozen questions similar to it. Some of those questions devolved into name calling and insults. They’re hilarious. People get quite passionate about what is worthy to be called art and what isn’t.

@gailcalled, I can just imagine the birches budding. :-)

gailcalled's avatar

@Hawaii_Jake: It’s the ghosts that have fascinated our family. She was a smart and talented woman who was ignored because she was female; she stayed bitter all her life over missed opportunities that were afforded to her many brothers.

Hawaii_Jake's avatar

@gailcalled : That sounds sad.

Keep_on_running's avatar

@Hawaii_JakeIn your own post above you mentioned you couldn’t even attempt to paint as well as he did, and @jonsblond said she was unable to judge.

That’s true, but neither of us said ”...paints better than they could, so they couldn’t judge.” Anyway, I’m getting away from the point, which doesn’t really matter anymore.

Hawaii_Jake's avatar

Here’s a great example of one the conversations here on Fluther about art.

Hawaii_Jake's avatar

@filmfann : You asked in the middle of the thread, “Isn’t most art manipulative? Is it just too obvious with him?” That’s a good question.

I don’t think manipulative is the right word for me to use to describe the effect art has on me. Art inspires me to reach higher, run faster, lift stronger. It doesn’t matter if those are physical, emotional, or spiritual actions. Art forces me to act.

Kincade’s paintings evidently have that effect on some people, too, though not on me.

fundevogel's avatar

I am not a fan of Kinkade. I can respect his craft and his business savvy, but the subject and tone of his work was without fail shallow, saccharine pap. His work was invariably just hyperfantized landscapes drenched in psychological cues with all the subtlety and depth of pink salad. Sure it tastes sweet. Anything’s sweet with that much sugar. But once you start to think about its components it’s a bit revolting too.

Keep_on_running's avatar

@fundevogel They call that pink stuff salad? Where’s the lettuce?!

Aethelwine's avatar

I never said I was unable to judge. I said “who am I to judge”. Good grief. @Keep_on_running explains it best for me with the following statement: Also, just a general question, isn’t there supposed to be no such thing as a good and bad painting, because art is the most subjective topic in the world? You know, the whole “what is art?” thing.

SuperMouse's avatar

His paintings are lovely to look, he is gifted in the art of pushing those buttons so beautifully described by @thorninmud. Hack? No. While he wasn’t blazing any artistic trails, he did have talent for creating work that consistently appealed to a certain demographic. Overmarketed? Yes.

I wrote the above before reading the Joan Didion quote @GoldieAV16 posted, now he just creeps me out!

mrrich724's avatar

I feel like his work looks like the type of print I might buy at Walmart.

jca's avatar

I could not stand his art. I read a few years ago that he had an assembly-line method of doing his paintings. He would do the main parts, and then someone else would add and emblish, and then one last person would add the little points of light that were emanating from the windows and other areas.

A friend of mine thinks I like his stuff and she often gives me the Thomas Kinkade calendar as a holiday gift. I give it away, I could not stand to look at that crap all year long. Someone earlier said the cottages were kind of sinister looking, like too perfect, waiting for Hansel and Gretel to stop by. I feel the same way – they’re too overdone. If they had half the details I think they would be better. I understand some people like that lush quality, but it’s not for me.

AstroChuck's avatar

Here is verbatim what I said on Facebook about fellow native Sacramentan Thomas Kinkade:

And now the race is on for people to buy up some really crappy paintings.
Sorry for the family’s loss. But he really was a greatly overrated artist. I will say this for him though, he really had a target for marketing.

I think my friend said it best when she referred to him as the “non-artist’s artist”.

jca's avatar

I am curious what he died from. He was on the young side to die.

Aethelflaed's avatar

@Hawaii_Jake Maybe it’s the way the question is phrase – “talented painter” vs “overmarketed hack” (which are not opposites). The extent of my artistic ability is really stick figures, so yeah, I have to give it to Kinkade (and really, anyone who’s ever been called an artist by someone) for his technical mastery. That doesn’t mean I can’t critique the work, it just means the critique is more meaningful if I keep in mind that I couldn’t somehow do better, though other people could. And just because many feel like Kinkade was a hack, or not an artist, or a soul-sucking demon from hell disguised as an angel or whatever, doesn’t change the fact that it’d be decent of me to recognize that between he and me, he was by far the more talented painter.

flutherother's avatar

It isn’t great art and it is a bit gaudy for my taste but this sort of sentimental kitsch does seem to sell.

Coloma's avatar

I’ve never been a T.K. fan myself, his work is pretty but not my style at all. T.K. has galleries in his hometown where I live, Placerville Ca. and his work is showcased on our Main Street.
Never the less, I don’t think anyone should knock the guy, he’s managed to create some beautiful works and earn a living as an artist. Live and raise a family in this beautiful area and I say good for him!
Too bad he’s dead at only 54.
I am sure my community will be having some sort of tribute to him.

TexasDude's avatar

I once heard that he would get belligerently drunk and piss all over peoples’ faces. Can anyone verify this?

YARNLADY's avatar

I loved his work. He painted exactly the kind of pictures that I love to have in my house.

GoldieAV16's avatar

I think he had some “issues.” He used to hang out a lot in Carmel but became persona non grata at most of the local watering holes for being an obnoxious drunk. Among other things, he’d like to whip it out and “mark his territory.”

TexasDude's avatar

@GoldieAV16 yeah, that’s what I thought. I also once read about him peeing on a Winnie the Pooh statue and something else about screaming “CODPIECE” at some musicians once… Weir dude.

Michael_Huntington's avatar

@Fiddle_Playing_Creole_Bastard Yeah he was yelling “Codpeice” during a Siegfried and Roy show
I will admit that Francis Bacon is a great artist. That is all.

Nimis's avatar

art : architecture
Thomas Kinkade : tract housing

Yes, tract housing is a building that was designed by someone with more skill than the average person. The mass production lowers the cost and makes it more readily available to more people.

Hurray for providing jobs and shelter for people. Still doesn’t change the fact that the whole business is soul-sucking.

FluffyChicken's avatar

He had talent that was put to ill use. He had an excellent grasp of lighting and color theory, and instead of using that talent to make a statement or to express anything real, he painted trite and contentless fantasy scenes because that’s what sells. There’s no story or content going on in anything of his that I have ever seen. Which is not to say he wasn’t talented. He was, he just chose to make bad art.

@Nimis I think you nailed it.

fundevogel's avatar

Perhaps the cause of death was a catastrophic heart failure brought on by years of unhealthy art practices and prolonged exposure to the highly corrosive toxins associated with commercial art.

The public urination and social misconduct could very well have been symptoms of his condition. It is a tragedy that perhaps this man might have been saved if only those around him realized his behavior might not be your garden variety douchebaggery, but a sign of something much more serious.

augustlan's avatar

In the beginning, I wasn’t a fan of his work. I didn’t hate it or anything, just not a fan. Then, he trademarked himself: “Thomas Kinkade, Painter of Light”. His work started appearing everyfuckingwhere, always with that stupid trademark. That’s when the loathing started.

GoldieAV16's avatar

I never liked his art, but I admired his marketing skills. I didn’t mind the mugs, the porcelain cottage collections, the calendars, greeting cards, t-shirts, <insert kitsch here> – although I would never own one. But then he sold 350 franchises for hundreds of thousands of dollars to unsuspecting “dealers.” I say unsuspecting, because he forgot to mention to 349 of the franchises that the 350th franchise was going to be QVC. HIs business model really ran aground over that one, as he ended up having to defend himself in court against some pretty angry (justifiably so) franchise owners. He lost in court, to more than one, and then defaulted on court ordered settlements by declaring bankruptcy.

As for the prices of his prints: If nobody actually laid a paint brush on one of them, they’re fairly inexpensive. If one of his workers applied some paint to the print, it costs more. If the Painter of Light himself daubed paint on the print, it gets signed on the back and is worth a lot more. But I think that in a decade or less we’ll see his “art” flooding garage sales and second hand stores with $5 stickers on it. So much for not speaking ill of the dead. That didn’t last long…

TexasDude's avatar

Maybe if he put the things he pissed on in public in jars and displayed them in galleries with titles like “The Ambiguity of Lost Peasant Timepieces” the art world would have taken him more seriously.

fundevogel's avatar

It’d be more interesting anyway.

filmfann's avatar

I appreciate everyones input here, and gave GAs to everyone.
I would like to say that I know several artists, who are quite talented, and they end up scrounging for money at craft shows and such. The fact that an artist can make a living, not to mention becoming a multimillionaire, is quite impressive to me.

Sunny2's avatar

It seems as if selling your artwork and making good money at it before you die, influences the opinions of people.The artist becomes a hack and his/her work is not art. I think Kinkade states his message quite well in his paintings. It isn’t angry, confusing or confrontational; it’s about warmth and conventional comfort. Perhaps this is more likable to a lot of people than conflict, sorrow, fear, and other negative themes.

jca's avatar

I read his obit in the New York Times last night, (Sunday’s Times) and it said that in the late 1990’s, he started planned communities like Walt Disney. Apparently he designed houses for those communities, and the houses sold in the high $400k’s at the time. Also he designed Avon bottles and something else, now I forgot what it was, but he had his fingers in all kinds of stuff.

YARNLADY's avatar

@jca Yes, I have several needlepoint and cross stitch kits that are based on TK paintings.

jca's avatar

@YARNLADY: I know he had all kinds of crap, but I am really curious now what the other thing they mentioned on the Times obit was, besides Avon bottles and the planned communities. Will google it and let yall know.

Plucky's avatar

I liked some of his stuff when he first started showing up (I didn’t love them ..but I appreciated them). I think he had talent. Then it was insanely over marketed and I began to get tired of seeing it everywhere. My mom still likes his paintings though (not as much as she used to); I bought some Kinkade calendars for her a long time ago but that was it.

jca's avatar

I just saw on Huffpost that the coroner ruled he died of drug and alcohol OD. He had diazepam (Valium) in his system and alcohol overdose.

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