Art critics almost to the last person panned the man.
He was no Picasso, they said.
He was too commercial, they whined.
They compared his art to the much trashed three dogs playing cards painting that was once the staple of garage sales.
Perhaps Thomas Kinkade’s biggest flaw in the minds of self-anointed guardians of culture and public taste is that the wrong people liked his work.
What do Mr. and Mrs. Average American know about art?
They were repulsed by Andre Serrano’s “art work” of placing a crucifix in his own urine and then photographed it that received a $15,000 National Endowment for the Arts prize funded nicely with their tax dollars. The critics loved it. The public didn’t.
Some of Kinkade’s harshest critics characterized his work as saccharine, sentimental and loaded with heavy-handed Christianity. They also dripped with venom when noting almost all of his work sold were factory reproductions with a number of high-priced prints touched up by master highlighters. Funny, but they don’t reserve the same criticism for Andy Warhol and Jeff Koons who used the same reproduction techniques.
They complained he was a conformist in giving people what they wanted instead of what the critics felt they needed. In their world, art must offend or be ultra-abstract to qualify as worthy art.
Kinkade’s art is straightforward and pleasing - at least for most people - to look at.
The Painter of Light is without a doubt the most popular contemporary artist in America today. An estimated one out of 20 households has a Thomas Kinkade painting.
Mine is not among the one in 20. They’re nice to look at but they’re not my style.
Having said that, I have a good-sized reproduction print of Ripon artist Dan Petersen’s “Sonora Pass” that uses watercolors in a contemporary manner to bring the landscapes he paints alive with light. He’s the same artist who’s mural “Sierra Crown” depicting the Yosemite Valley graces the wall of the PG&E office next to the Legion Hall on East Yosemite Avenue.
A few years back, I had an acquaintance stop by who fancied herself a connoisseur of art. Without any request to provide her two cents, the second she saw “Sonora Pass” she couldn’t resist dismissing it as being unworthy of being called art. I forgot to mention she majored in art but hasn’t exactly been able to make a living at it.
She used one of the terms Kinkade critics do and called it “saccharine” and that true art needs to invoke emotion.
I told her she was nuts. It did invoke emotion. If she’d ever bicycled over Sonora Pass and passed the meadow just before the summit on a late spring day just as the sun was starting to descend she might understand how I can look at Petersen’s painting virtually every day and draw inspiration from it.
It puts things in perspective.
Perhaps that is why Thomas Kinkade is so popular with those that don’t get why critics believe art should be shocking or foreboding.
Kinkade excelled at reminding us of the beauty in such things as light that adds richness and context to the simple things in life.
Heaven forbid if one is supposed to find beauty in art.
This column is the opinion of managing editor, Dennis Wyatt, and does not necessarily represent the opinion of The Bulletin or Morris Newspaper Corp. of CA. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org or 209-249-3519.