With the death of Thomas Kinkade still being recent news I’m reluctant to disparage his work…reluctant, but not entirely unwilling. The “Painter of Light”, a moniker he snatched and trademarked from J. M. W. Turner (1775-1851), is admittedly very technically proficient in a style that would have been relevant about 200 years ago. Retreading conceptual ground a couple of centuries late, the paintings are as heavy on sentimentality as they are light on substance and use Christianity as a marketing tool more than a religion.
What may be most troubling about Kinkade’s work, though, is the type of culture that it condones and promotes. Bad art, boring art values saleability over substance. Art enthusiasts become “target audience” and prefer a feeling of pseudo-populism over work that challenges held beliefs. Rather than advancing the dialectic, the ongoing conversation of art, the culture of boring art lets the discussion regress and degenerate into a pool of verbal and visual clichés. Bad art creates a bad art culture; bad art culture, in turn, demands bad art. I believe experts call this a “Kinkadian feed-back loop” or a “crap maelstrom”.
Florida has been dealt more than its fair share of kitsch – it’s the nature of being a tourist destination. And Tampa Bay in particularly is susceptible to succumbing to the tug of the crap maelstrom. It isn’t difficult to imagine an art scene that deals only in bucolic pastel seascapes. Bad and/or boring art is a lot like pollution: it looks bad but that’s the least of the trouble it causes. Bad art stops the visual conversation and kills a scene’s momentum. A conservative art scene teaches its audience to settle for the results its given and expect more of the same.
Breaking the Kinkadian feed-back loop as an arts audience is surprisingly easy, though. Visiting an exhibition, praising an artist, purchasing a work of art – these are all active endorsements. And endorsements are the stuff that an art scene is made of. So…who and what are you endorsing? Graphic design pretending to be art? Home decor disguised as art? Easy to read, pretty to look at, collect ‘em all art?
I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t trying to influence your taste in art. The fact is, if you’re an active member of the art scene your taste in art is relatively important – it plays a part in steering the art conversation. To keep the conversation progressive everyone needs to challenge themselves. However, if you’re pleased with a good quaint cottage painting or your photograph of a sleeping baby, just order it from QVC – no need to steer the conversation backwards.