The Dark Light of Thomas Kinkade


Hans Holbein the Younger, The Body of the Dead Christ in the Tomb, 1520-22, oil on panel, Öffentliche Kunstsammlung, Basel.

In The Idiot (1869), Dostoyevsky’s Prince Mishkin notices a reproduction of Holbein’s Dead Christ on the wall in Rogozhin’s house, and observes that it has the power to make one lose their Christian faith. The painting is unusual because Holbein painted it in the form of a predella, which forms the base of an altarpiece, featuring Christ’s crucifixion and resurrection. But there is no altarpiece to put Holbein’s dead Christ in context. Mishkin’s fear is that without the context of the resurrection provided by the altarpiece, the dead Christ deprives the Christian of hope. Because Holbein’s painting offers no resurrection, it cannot proclaim anything but death, its unrelenting power to vanquish even the Son of God. Dostoyevesky was fascinated with the painting the first time he saw it in Basel and apparently his wife had to pull him away from it after hours of close inspection. No doubt Dostoyevsky was fascinated by the implications of the image of God’s body, beginning to decay. Holbein gives us the most terrifying painting of law in the Western tradition. Munch’s The Scream rips our sanity from us; Holbein’s painting shows that the law kills God himself.

Yet Thomas Kinkade, who died on Good Friday, produced paintings that are far more terrifying than Munch’s and Holbein’s, giving us a world deprived not only of Easter Sunday, but Holy Saturday, Good Friday, and Christ himself. Kinkade claimed, “I like to portray a world without the Fall.” My professional colleagues dismissed Kinkade’s work as harmlessly trite, uninteresting, nostalgic, and sentimental illustrations that provide consumers with an “art-like” experience without the rigors and demand of attending seriously to learning the tradition of serious art. And I agree. Looking at serious painting, reading serious poetry, listening to serious music, requires work and practice and a willingness to be changed, or, as literary critic George Steiner has written, to be converted.

But Kinkade’s images prey on his audience’s preconceptions, expectations, and presumptions, restricting rather than broadening or deepening their experience. In the weeks to come, I will write about the artistic problems inherent in Kinkade’s work, problems which infect a large swath of the contemporary art world as well. But from a theological perspective, his work is not merely problematic, it is dangerous. Kinkade and his devotees have long railed against the nihilism of modern art and the contemporary art world. But because it denies the very foundation of our relationship to God in Christ, Kinkade’s work is more nihilistic than anything Picasso and Pollock could paint, or Nietzsche and Sartre could write.

Thomas Kinkade, A Peaceful Retreat

Because it is an outgrowth of his (imagined) view of a world “before the Fall,” Kinkade depicts a world governed by obedience to the law. Reformed theologian Michael Horton, in his recently published magisterial systematic theology, writes, “Law comes before gospel because creation comes before the Fall.” But the Edenic world Kinkade projects is pretty much the fallen world without the dirtiness of the city and the inconvenience of other people, a weekend getaway in the country. All we need to do to return to Eden is get our lives in order. Kinkade’s much ballyhooed “light” merely adds atmosphere and glow, a pleasant touch to an already charming scene. And because it makes us so comfortable, it is a very dark light indeed.

Kinkade’s work is the meticulously painted smile on the Joker’s disfigured face. It refuses to deal with the fallenness, brokenness, sinfulness of the world. And more troubling, it enables his clientele to escape into an imaginary world where things can be pretty good, as long as we have our faith, our family values, and a visual imagery that re-affirms all this at the office and at home. That Kinkade and his followers believe this to be “Christian art” is an affront to art, which time and again offers us grace, or at least brings us to the place where we realize that grace is our only hope. Art can do this because it often cuts through our self-deception to show us the reality of our souls. And this occurs because painters, poets, musicians, and writers probe the depths of human suffering and brokenness, and in that black pit, a flickering light can often be found. Some artists might give us only the black pit. But that is at times enough. We need art to remind us that we are not okay. We don’t just need a boost, a change of scenery or a weekend getaway. We need to be killed so that we can be raised again. Art can and should at times kill us, destroy our pretensions to virtue, goodness, and our desire to enlist art in our self-improvement schemes. And because being confronted with the hopelessness of our depravity is unbearable and our recognition that we cannot justify ourselves so utterly contrary to our fallen nature, we must have art to confront us. For it is only then, when brought to the very end of ourselves, that we can receive grace. In his book, Disruptive Grace: Studies in the Theology of Karl Barth (Eerdmans, 2002), George Hunsinger wrote, “Grace that is not disruptive is not grace…The grace of God really comes to lost sinners, but in coming it disrupts them to the core. It slays to make alive and sets the captive free.” Munch’s little oil and pastel bomb, The Scream, destroys any pretense to human stability without grace while Holbein’s Dead Christ gives us God himself succumbing to death, the unwavering conclusion of the law.

But Kinkade’s work refuses to take us to the end of ourselves, refuses the confrontations and disruption that could open us up to grace. His images give us a world that’s really okay, a world in which all we need is home and hearth, a weekend retreat, a cozy night with the family to put us right with God. It is a world devoid of pain and suffering; devoid of any fear of insanity or suicide. As a result, it is also a world without grace, without the Word that offers it. Kinkade’s multi-million dollar empire was built on our fallen human refusal to confront our innate hopelessness and our need to do what the Ninevites did in the book of Jonah, rip our clothes, put on sackcloth and ashes, and beg for God’s grace. “Who knows? God may turn and relent and turn from his fierce anger, so that we may not perish” (Jonah 3: 9).

Although his visual imagery refused to acknowledge violence and desperation, Kinkade’s personal life was full of it. I can only imagine the excruciating pressure he felt to live up to these deceptively dangerous paintings, which deprived him of the grace he so desperately needed. If only Kinkade could have used his considerable artistic gifts to produce work that came out of his fear, anger, desperation, and his struggle with faith in Christ, he just might have become a painter of Light.

  • http://www.NancyFrench.com Nancy French

    Wow — great thoughts.

    • What?

      Art is an expression of what an artist wants to convey, to the best of their abilities. Maybe Kincade wanted to show the world in an “ideal” way (or it least his version of it). Maybe he wanted his work to serve as a counter to all the “innate hoplelessness” amply represented in every art gallery and museum in America. You and I may find his work shallow, pedestrian and unsatisfying. But dangerous and sinister?? Hardly. In fact, the only thing I find really sinister are self-appointed gatekeepers who pass judgement on other people’s free expression by labeling it unacceptable.

      • Daniel A. Siedell

        Dear What?, The responsibility of a critic is to pass judgment, of some kind. You may not like that there are critics in the world passing judgment, taking art and other visual images like Kinkade’s seriously enough to pass judgment, but that is another issue. Moreover, why prohibit my free expression to respond to in a public way to imagery that is in the public arena? I’m hardly a gatekeeper. What I say about Kinkade’s work won’t impede the sale of his work or access to it. And finally, if after reading my thoughts your only takeaway is that I’m “labeling it unacceptable”?, then you’ve not read my essay closely or thoughtfully enough. I’d also read my follow up post as well.

    • Daniel A. Siedell

      Thanks, Nancy. I appreciate your support! Especially in light of the comments that followed!

    • http://thomaskinkadenorthcountry.blogspot.com Kim

      I found one of his pieces for sale! Go tohttp://thomaskinkadenorthcountry.blogspot.com/ for $399,000. It’s his Crown Jewel. http://www.ebay.com/itm/Thomas-Kinkade-Crown-Jewel-North-Country-ORIGINAL-30-x48-/160823492090?pt=Art_Paintings&hash=item2571d3bdfa#ht_507wt_1317

    • http://textsincontext.wordpress.com/ Michael Snow

      Such effete snobbery. If this is representative of the Christian ivory tower, we are in deeper trouble than we thought.

      • Daniel A. Siedell

        Thanks for reading, Michael.

  • Deb

    “Because it makes us so comfortable it is very dark light indeed.” Pure rubbish! I never thought I would stand up for Kinkade because I have never been a personal fan, but you are really reaching in your efforts to criticize him.

  • http://yahoo.com wayne brice

    This article is about as ridiculous as one could imagine. The reviewer’s dislike of Kinkade’s art leads him/her to manufacture theological issues that simply aren’t there.

  • Gary Russell

    That was one of the strangest interpretations of art that I have ever read.
    It is almost as though you were assigned to write an article on art, but had to use the most ridiculous premise that you could construct.
    Not a personal critique – your writing style is great.
    Just amazed at how you ascribed all of those outlandish motives to Kinkaide.
    “Kinkade’s multi-million dollar empire was built on our fallen human refusal to confront our innate hopelessness…” REALLY?
    Sometimes a cabin is just a cabin.

  • tam

    What does Piss Christ teach us? I’m serious.

  • writeblock

    The article is another pseudo-intellectual hit piece that supposes art must “take us to the end of ourselves.” It claims Kinkaide “refuses the confrontations and disruption that could open us up to grace.” It ignores the artist’s stated intention: to depict the world before the Fall: which is our world aglow with the very grace this writer refuses to acknowledge as present–the light Kinkaide himself insisted should permeate his work as a metaphor. Why not take his intention at face value? Why superimpose the need for more angst and darkness? Why is a depiction of a sullied world any more valid as art than the yearning for an unsullied one? He’s not giving us a world that’s really okay, a world in which all we need is home and hearth, a weekend retreat, a cozy night with the family to put us right with God.” He’s giving us a hope for something far better, a final coming-home to a place aglow with God. Granted the technical limitations of his style may be cloying for the cynical. But there can be no doubt he’s touched a chord that reverberates in the souls of millions.

  • Sharon Sassmann

    Who are you to say what someone portrays in their art? Art that makes you think doesn’t necessarily always portray truth. Would it be wrong to create art that expresses one’s idea of heaven? Because that is obviously a world with no sin. What if his art of a perfect, sinless world makes me want to achieve that and thus does make me a better person? How about Colossians 3:2 “Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things.” I’m not even a Thomas Kinkade fan, but your viewpoint is flawed. And at the end of the day you can criticize all you want, but its still art, which by definition is “The expression or application of human creative skill and imagination…” I’m sorry your imagination has become so cynical and pessimistic.

  • http://khfit@aol.com kely

    Im not an expert on Kinkade…but I did find a bit of irony in a couple of your statements.

    “But Kinkade’s images prey on his audience’s preconceptions, expectations, and presumptions, restricting rather than broadening or deepening their experience.”

    “Kinkade’s much ballyhooed “light” merely adds atmosphere and glow, a pleasant touch to an already charming scene. And because it makes us so comfortable, it is a very dark light indeed.”

    You could easly slip in the word “religion’s” into the Kinkade spot and have a simular statement.

    I find it refreshing when someone struggles with Christ…it means their making an honest attempt to understand. On the other hand, I am worried with those who understand Christ so well…it always lines up with “their” beliefs.

  • Geoff Wilson

    I’m interested in Mr. Siedell’s opinion of “Prince of Peace” bu Kinkaid

  • John Murphy

    Wow. Profound and though-provoking. I’ve never read anything concerning art that frames things this way, but it rings true to me. You’ve given me a lot to think through. Thank you.

  • MikeofAges

    English translation: He wasn’t liberationist. Not progressive. Not popular frontist. What his art was is not important. It is what it was not that matters. Actually, Kincade’s art was not, of its own accord, much of anything. Just pleasant paintings to hang on the wall. If you don’t mind, a way to take a day off. Especially, a way to take a day off from confrontational art, all of it promoting the same leftist/liberationist agenda.

    • http://etechne.blogspot.ca/ techne

      “Just pleasant paintings to hang on the wall. If you don’t mind, a way to take a day off.”

      a paraphrase of matisse, perhaps?

      art should be “for every mental worker, for the businessman as well as the man of letters, for example, a soothing, calming influence on the mind, something like a good armchair which provides relaxation from physical fatigue”

  • Robin Leigh

    Hmmm, an interesting but extraordinarily judgemental and critical narritive on one man’s interpretation of another man’s life-work.

    I’m not, nor have I ever been, a fan of Thomas Kinkade’s artwork but that doesn’t mean all art must take us to the ‘end of ourselves’. And it’s absurd to declare that great art tears us down and rebuilds us. It evokes thought and introspection, most often temporarily, but it isn’t, never has been nor will ever be, our Salvation or a bestower of Grace. That gift is only conveyed through a relationship with an individual’s concept of God, whomever He or She happens to be.

    Masterpieces of ‘religious art’ like Comon’s Land of Nod or Caravaggio’s The Entombment of Christ will stand the test of time for their sheer beauty and ability to deeply convey the complexity of their subject matter, the momentous events they depict and emotions they are able to evoke. Yet based on their creator’s biographical histories, they didn’t imbue their originators with Grace. More often than not our labors don’t, whether they be delivered in the form of art, industry or other vocations. Our crafts and labors, whether or not widely revered, DO allow us the opportunity to express our highest form of spiritual connection…based on our own individual vision and capabilities.

    A man and his personal artistic expression may be viewed as callow even though is commercially successful. Ultimately it’s the passage of time and the embrace of future generations which determine final commercial and social value.

    It takes a particular form of bombast to declare any artist as a person fallen in nature (a failure) because he didn’t create art in a form that meet with the pretentious observations of a sophisticated art afficianado.

    The argument in the article above loses all merit when one extends even a cursory examination of the many tragic, ruined lives of widely regarded great artists, often religious in practice and thought, throughout the ages.

    Using someone’s demise, particularly as a result of alcohol or drug addiction, as a rebuke for their artistic inadequacies and as a judgement of their frailties, percieved or otherwise, must be the harshest criticism of all.

  • obetwo

    omg, What a load a crap. I wish I could get back the time i spent reading this.

  • Eric Korn

    And this is why I admire South American churches. There is blood to remind us of suffering, dead bodies to remind us of awaiting death & suffering saints to remind us of the sacrifice we all need in order to reach salvation. We too often look to religion to tell us that we are okay. Kinkade seemed to wish for a world that does not exist and seduced people into thinking that the lion already lies with the lamb.

  • Steve T.

    I don’t know anyone who considers Kinkade’s paintings “Christian”. Did he or his fans consider it so? Frankly I can’t say; I must confess ignorance on that score. That said, I think this author is reading much from nothing. There’s no doubt that Kinkade was a talented painter; but I’m not sure who would call his paintings “art”. Yes, he painted pleasing scenes that didn’t require any thought. So what? They are fairy tale paintings, nothing more, nothing less. A sort of harmless visual escapism. Who cares? Why even comment on it? No serious person reads anything into Kinkade’s work, so why disect it as if it were some sort of insult to the Lord? This article strikes me as being as much piffle as Kinkade’s “art”.

    • Kari

      You ask if anyone considered Kinkade’s art “Christian”. Yes! Absolutely! Many people are deluded into the notion that the word “Christian” is an adjective that can be applied to anything produced by a believer in Jesus…as long as that thing doesn’t have nasty ugly images or dirty words. Blecch. Family Bookstores just jettisoned the movie “The Blind Side” since it contained a curse word.

      So sad.

      This article struggles with great thoughts. Thanks for writing it.

  • Greg

    I am not the biggest fan of Kinkade’s work, but I think this author is way overthinking this. It reminds me of C.S. Lewis’ statement “too often a thorough education just makes a man a more clever devil” (not an exact quote). I see Kinkade’s work as the work of one who took the scripture to heart that says: “Whatsoever things are good, pure, lovely, of good report…..think on these things.”

  • russ in nc

    Hmmm…I can either decorate my living room wall with “The Body of the Dead Christ in the Tomb” or “A Peaceful Retreat”. Hard to choose, hard to choose.

    • Kari

      Not for me. Holbein is a genius.

  • A Hoskin

    Art is about beauty. Kinkade isn’t very good because his work is not very beautiful. Portraying fallenness is not a necessary condition for art. Where’s the despair in Michelangelo’s David?

  • John

    Kinkade is dead. Art Snobs win. Get over it.

  • Dave Stevens

    I hope you don’t write a column on Monet.

  • http://khfit.com kelly

    ?

  • David Ferguson

    Well put. Something always bothered me about Kinkaide’s paintings. I could not put it into words except to say that his pictures were trite, as mentioned above. Not sure that the paintings are nihilistic, but they sure seem, well, Church of Laodicean.

  • JP Straley

    Siedell doesn’t like Kincaid’s art. Kincaid’s stuff is next door to caricature because it is so strongly stylized, and in a sense, ideological. But it is comfortable and well presented, and it takes a truly twisted outlook to see his work as evil. Siedell reminds me of those free-verse poets that complain that no one “gets” their stuff, blind to the idea that maybe their stuff just doesn’t resonate.

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  • valerie

    Thomas Kincaid’s paintings are dangerous because he was a technically skilled painter who produced beautiful pictures without paying respect to some artsy-fahrtsy-types’ requirement for ugliness.
    Worse, he made money at it.
    Sour grapes.

  • porcorosso

    Obama is to politics as Kincade is to art.

  • Alan Pilcher

    Good grief! Get some treatment. Counseling will help.

  • Evans Lyne

    Wow, what a load of crap! This is the type of discourse that makes many people believe that most modern artists (and especially art critics) are out of touch, pseudo-intellectuals who mask their lack of coherent thoughts with big words and their lack of artistic skill with with abstractions that don’t require skill.

  • http://www.themotorcycleproject.blogspot.com Ed Zeppelin

    really tortured analysis

    kinkade’s art is motel art
    it’s art you see in conference room b at the Salt Lake City Holiday Inn
    it’s on sale this weekend at WalMart

  • Jon

    The most accurate and insightful critique I’ve ever read on Kinkade’s work. The last sentence is most poignant. Perhaps Mr. Kinkade became a prisoner of his own ‘style’. Thanks for the great article.

    • Daniel A. Siedell

      Thanks, Jon. I’m glad you liked it Did you read my follow-up post on Kinkade? Glad to have you as a reader.

  • Greg Taylor

    Daniel Siedell as an art critic looks for meanings deeply embedded within Thomas Kincade’s paintings contrary to how Kincade’s admirers view them. His admirers do not look for deeply embedded meanings. Mr. Siedell looks at Mr. Kincade’s paintings and is terrified at what he thinks he sees. I believe that Mr. Siedell is assuming that Thomas Kincade is filling his paintings with theological meaning. I don’t think he is because his admirers aren’t looking for it.
    I think Thomas Kincade simply wanted to portray a quiet and innocent serenity whose only two theological meanings were God who was portrayed by the light, and peace, innocence, and serenity as it would have been if man had not fallen. I don’t see him dealing with any other theological topic; not sin, not death, not heaven or hell. Since he doesn’t deal with any of these other theological topics, are we to assume that Mr. Kincade is therefore saying that those things either do not exist or are not important? Certainly not! I most certainly do not believe that Thomas Kincade is promoting heresy or harm in any way, shape, or form. I think he created his works just to enhance the lives of others in which he greatly succeeded.

    • Ryan Emmett

      Did you read the article?

    • Devin

      Agreed Greg, ty.

    • Emil Posavac

      Agree. I never felt I wanted a kinkade print, but never had terrible thoughts when walking past one.

    • Daniel A. Siedell

      Hey Greg, I appreciate your thoughts–as a critic I do look for meaning and significance where others don’t. That’s just the nature of the business. However, I also believe that theological meaning is not something you put into something, it is already there. The discussion is what kind of theological meaning.

  • Haley

    He gained a multi-billion dollar empire by not injecting his personal woes into his work and created beauty instead. We didn’t buy the person, we bought the art. Imagine that.

    • http://www.withouthavingseen.com Ryan Haber

      Do you realize how nihilistic your comment is? You implicitly measure the art by the amount of money it brings in. This attitude rejects the value of the art itself and assigns it a value based only on people’s willingness to buy it. This is the chief problem with capitalism no less than socialism – it is materialistic. In the case of capitalism, it reduces all things to their productive (or exchange) value. The thing itself is inconsequential and has no value, to this way of thinking.

      Our Blessed Lord did not make one penny by His death and resurrection; I would rather be part of His Kingdom than Kinkade’s (or Trump’s or Murdoch’s or Zuckerberg’s) empire any day.

    • Daniel A. Siedell

      A part of my working definition of art (as opposed to decoration) is that it uses one’s personal woes in some way. I think that’s what makes great art, music, literature, film. And it is through that heartbreak and sadness that something else comes through. Without the former the latter doesn’t occur.

      • Richard Terrell

        Two artists I can think of that had a similar goal as Kinkade—depicting a world of harmony/peace, quietude, a kind of “heaven” or an untroubled world, are Renoir and Matisse. Do these artists also avoid, as Kinkade does (according to your analysis) using one’s personal woes? And if so, should we dismiss them as true artists?

        I think it is a valid thing for an art critic to look seriously at Kinkade’s art, on sociological grounds alone. What was the source of his extraordinary appeal? I did an article on Kinkade myself back in 2001 (for Christianity and the Arts magazine). I see his work as playing upon the universal yearning for a home, a place of sanctuary. If so, then he appeals to something deeply human. Whether he did it in a good way is another matter. I was intrigued, as I went through the Kinkade gallery, to see a number of paintings that he had done that did not look like Kinkade art (more muted, realistic, impressionistic in technique). So, I suspect he may have had a sense of being trapped in his own way. I find your interpretation interesting, though, in regard to the one Kinkade painting I’ve seen that I rather like. I don’t know the title, but it depicts a choppy sea coast with, interestingly enough, a stormy sky. It may be his one work that comes close to incorporating his own “personal woes.” You’ve written a thought-provoking article, although you are probably harder on him than I would be.

        Someone else here asked what was communicated in “Piss Christ.” I’ve shown that image to church groups and students encountering it for the first time and who do not know what it is. Invariably, their initial response is to cite a sense of the holy or mystical spirituality. Their negative responses come only after being informed about the media used in its creation.

  • Brandi

    There is no hard and fast rule that stipulates that art has to use violent and desperation in it’s imagery. Neither are we to dwell on things of this world (violence and desperation) but yet our hope is in Christ whom eventually will return to make our world perfect once again.
    When I look at Kincaid’s artwork, I see it for what it is, a pretty painting. I’m not trying to psychoanalyze his spiritual state nor cast opinions of how Kincaid failed the church in general by his artwork. Really? It almost sounds as if this author has a personal vendetta against Kincaid… ?? Strange.
    I’m not art critic, I simply enjoy art that appeals to my own personal taste and inclination. Kincaid’s art was often a little too ‘perfect’ for my own liking, although I wouldn’t mind a cabin by the lake w/out internet for a while. It might just afford me more time to dwell on the grace that is extended to me daily.
    In reference to Kincaid’s art: “It is a world devoid of pain and suffering; devoid of any fear of insanity or suicide. As a result, it is also a world without grace, without the Word that offers it.”
    I don’t know about others, but I LONG for a world without pain and suffering, devoid of fear and insanity and suicide. I long for such a world that the pages of Scripture promises us will indeed be created for us. Just because I long for this perfect world does not somehow equate to me not believing in grace, or needing it. On the contrary, it makes me more aware of my (and the whole world’s) short comings due to sin and death. And the grace by which we live and are saved. It makes me long for the perfect dwelling place, in my Father’s house, where there will be no more suffering.
    Perhaps the author should have extended a little bit more *grace* to Kincaid.

    • Jane

      Very well spoken! My thoughts exactly! I am an artist and I don’t care for Kincade’s work and I don’t look for theological imagery in any of his works. I don’t “imbed” theological thoughts and views into my work. I’m a Christian. Does that mean I’m approaching my art in the wrong way? I see my art as a gift from the Master Artist and I’m able to put my expressions, experiences, feelings, and reactions to the world I see on canvas. He liked painting happy, warm fuzzy paintings. He made millions doing so and many people liked his work.

    • Wilma

      Exactly, Brandi!! Seems pretty arrogant to view someone’s art and make all these assumptions about what he thought, felt, what he should have thought, felt, etc.? Can’t we just look at it and either enjoy it, or not, without making assumptions and judging the artist based on our assumptions?

    • Daniel A. Siedell

      Brandi, Good thoughts. As a critic I’m trained to look for meaning where most don’t. I also don’t view art as akin to one’s private journals. Artists make work for the public. And so to comment on it is not to pry. That’s just in the job description. I too look forward to the day when Christ will wipe them from your eye and my eye–but I don’t long for a world without tears. I have thought long and hard about whether this first essay (did you read my second one?) lacked the grace about which I was writing. And I readily concede that I am guilty of gracelessness. But I have the nagging feeling that what you mean by grace is something closer to “lighten up” and “don’t take things so seriously” and “to each his own,” which is most definitely not the kind of grace Christ brings, which was so offensive that he was killed for it.

  • Franklin51

    Wow! what a load of self righteous tripe! This article smacks of the same “I know better than you” liberal BS and how we need to leave the decisions to our “betters”. What is good for us or in this case, what is art, is supposedly beyond the reach of us under-class people.

    This is nothing more than an arrogant hit piece on a dead man. So low I can’t even begin to fathom what kind of rock the author crawled out from under.

  • Pamela Miller

    OMG. You need to get a life. I have been committed Christian for over 30 years. I am a serious Bible student. You are going somewhere with this you don’t need to go. Leave Thomas Kinkade alone. What right do you have to judge how this man chose his subjects to paint. Just because he didn’t paint all the tragedy in the world doesn’t mean he was hurting society. I am shocked by your analogy. You people are part of what sent this man over the edge. You don’t know if this is how God divinely guided him to paint. For those who know Jesus as Lord we will live in a perfect environment for eternity!

    • Mare

      Pamela, thank you! Well said. B.T.W. In the previous art work, it appears, that the middle finger is situated…….. And, Janet, I guess that had some meaning, because a lot of people own his work. Thanks, Jeanette Victoria, I was about to mention that…….

      • Deb

        Please tell me you realize that painting was painted loooong before the idea of using the middle finger to offend….

    • LNF

      Kinkade sent himself over the edge. No one else is responsible for his tragic death. Mr. Kinkade chose to become a public figure when he decided to aggressively market his paintings. Public figures cannot control what others will say about them, but they can control how they will respond. Mr. Kinkade’s paintings enriched the lives of millions of people; that should be our memory of him.

    • Daniel A. Siedell

      Pamela, Indeed. I must get a life! OMG! As a follower of Christ I too look forward to eternity. And I look forward to seeing Kinkade there as well. I believe that God’s sovereignty is supreme yet I find it difficult to believe and justify theologically that He divinely ordained him to make those images. I do believe, however, that God in his grace and mercy has used these images, no matter what I say about them, for His glory and for the edification of some. As Joseph told his brothers, “you meant it for evil, God meant it for good.”

  • Janet Swanborn

    Wow. And I never thought his paintings meant anything.

  • Janet Swanborn

    This is my first sight of Holbein’s Christ painting. He’s giving the viewer the finger. Holy mackerel.

    • Deb

      I sincerely hope your comment was sarcastic, as “giving the finger” is a much more contemporary idea than a painting created in 1520-22….

      • Janet Swanborn

        No it isn’t.

        • Deb

          hmmm… so you do realize that he isn’t actually giving the finger and that it is an issue of perspective in art and how capturing perspective has changed over the years?

        • Margaret

          Tell me, if your palms had a big hold in them and the tendon to the middle finger was separated, exactly how would you hold your fingers?

  • JeanetteVictoria

    Pretentious hogwash. I’ve seen what passes for “art” these days.

    • Daniel A. Siedell

      JeanetteVictoria, I agree with you–I don’t like what passes for art these days either! But I’ll contest your claim that my thoughts are pretentious hogwash. Read more of my writings. There are a lot available.

  • Ed

    When will people stop this overblown intellectual derision of Kinkade’s work? Art doesn’t always have to be worthy to hang in the Louvre, nor does it always have to make us inspect our own collective navels. They’re just paintings that a select number of people enjoy, nothing more, and this academically cloaked prejudice insults them as well as the artist.

  • Marilyn M.

    The author of this article is not an inspiration towards grace, he sounds bitter, sad, negative, oh, so critical and judgmental especially of Mr. Kinkade and his art. Sir, we already have ugliness in the world that appears to be never ending, but there are also so many beautiful people, places and events. All we have to do is open our eyes and hearts.
    I feel so blessed in my life mainly because I know the Lord has given me the strength to survive and enjoy the wonderful things life has to offer and Mr Kinkade’s art is one of those things. You have critiqued him and the millions of people which enjoy his art which includes me. I’ve liked his art for years because of how it makes me feel. Most of his paintings are fantastic allowing for your own imagination to create and wonder. The skies make me think of heaven and our Lord whom created the sun, the cottages – of quiet evenings, the gardens and gates of cemeteries, yet of a path towards another life beyond death-paradise? The best art is one that brings about feelings, reminds you of God’s miracles and is a feast for the eyes and mind. I happen prefer positive feelings, beautiful thoughts and wonderment.
    Too bad this sits wrong with you, you are missing so much! Why “should” art “at times kill us, destroy our pretensions to virtue, goodness”? No one should have pretensions, but what does that have to do with art? Do you feel that because you don’t care for Mr Kinkade’s work, it’s not Christian art or excellent art? Have you even seen his art in person, there is no discernible darkness other than shadows which are needed in realism and add to the overall beauty. Sir, I pity you.
    I had the distinct pleasure of meeting Mr Kinkade once, he was inspiring and you could feel that God’s Grace was in his life, not only because of his words but because of his passion for Him. Did you ever meet him? Are you personally aware of everything in his personal life, of all this “violence and desperation” you speak of? Maybe he refused to paint everyday ugly life, maybe his paintings made him happy, maybe he was a human with the faults that all of us have. How about showing some respect for the most popular Christian artist of our generation. After all he is no longer on earth, maybe just some respect for that.
    If in your negative mind you are thinking of me as a naive person that has not experienced life, Know this, I’ve survived every type of abuse you can imagine, I have survived cancer, heart issues, many surgeries and now other illnesses which have left me disabled-my faith and hopefulness gives me strength. Mr Kinkade’s paintings make me and many others smile. He will always be The Painter of Light. May God bless him and especially you, for it seems you need some light in your heart and soul.

    • Natalie

      Ma’am, if you’re sincerely curious about the “violence and desperation” in Kinkade’s personal life, you need only google “Thomas Kinkade” for a wealth of articles on the subject. If you need to narrow them down, I suggest coupling his name with “divorce”, “dui”, or “Disney.” Kinkade’s struggles are no reason to berate him (and this author does not), but they were real.

    • Daniel A. Siedell

      Marilyn M, I would appreciate your prayers! I am the chief of sinners. I sincerely apologize that my thoughts have hurt you so. It is certainly one of the dangers of writing such a piece. And I pray that you can enjoy your memory of Kinkade again without my negativity.

  • Andrew Karl

    I’ve never read ivory tower snobbery combined with simpleton-esqe religious dogma before. Not every piece of art needs to shock or challenge us. Sometimes people just want to look at a painting and feel good. There is nothing wrong with feeling good or healthy escape. Whip yourself and wear a horsehair shirt if you like because some silly old book says you are corrupt. I (like tens-of-millions) enjoy Kinkade’s work and yes, I get that it’s not great art.

    • Daniel A. Siedell

      Andrew, Your comment is my daughter’s favorite! I think she agrees with you. She’s been reading it to me constantly for the last two weeks. I’m not claiming that art should shock us, but for art to be art (and Kinkade’s are not although he pretends they are) they are forcing us to experience the world more deeply. My thoughts derive from and must be interpreted within the theological framework I set out. If you don’t buy the theological framework, don’t take the rest of my analysis seriously. Thanks for reading my post. And thanks for making my daughter smile!

  • Man-o-War

    Wow — deceptively dangerous because Kinkade’s paintings did not cause us to confront our innate hopelessness? Kinkade preys on the audience by offering a cozy night with the family?

    Get a grip.

    • Deb

      I think they are deceptive because they present life not as it is and a fake beauty that defies the real beauty that lies within our imperfection. They are pretty just like a Barbie doll.

    • Daniel A. Siedell

      Deb, I like the Barbie doll comparison. It creates pressure also on the user. We think it’s harmless but it’s not. It is telling us something about the world and what we believe and have faith in.

  • larry

    we need to be killed to rise again? the hopelessness of our depravity? the law kills God himself? sounds like we’re back in the Dark Ages.

    • Deb

      I think there is a bit in scripture about that idea…

      • Michael Routen

        Agreed! This does a fair job of summing up the gospel.

    • Brendan

      Not the Dark Ages. It’s the way things have been since the Fall, and still are. We still need a Savior, and we still need to die to self if we truly are to find life.

    • Daniel A. Siedell

      Exactly Brendan, it’s good old Reformation law and gospel preaching. We have to be killed by the law, by God’s perfect standard of righteousness before we can be saved by God’s grace in Christ, who becomes our righteousness for us. It frees us. That is the foundation for my thoughts on Kinkade. Not whether he’s a good artist or makes good art or not.

  • Amondstien

    Perhaps it would be helpful to distinguish between art and painting. Surely painting is a form or type of art, but also just as clear (as in the case of Kinkaide) not all painting is art. I agree with the author’s assessment that art is meant to have an impact upon the viewer that is disruptive, and by this definition Kindkaide is not doing art, precisely because he is giving people what they already want and expect. In much that same way that Disney gives people what they already want expect and in the way that much of contemporary North American Christian gives people what they already want and expect. And as the comments have indicated, people don’t like getting what they don’t want. People don’t want Christianity to be disruptive, cause that is so medieval! People want Soma—Christianity without tears. What else is a world without the fall?

    • Daniel A. Siedell

      Amondstien, You raise a great point, although I wouldn’t put it exactly like that. The problem with Kinkade’s work is that it’s not really PAINTING. He produces an image in painting but it’s meant to be reproduced on tshirts, posters, coffee mugs, etc. To say Kinkade isn’t doing art isn’t to presume that it’s not good on some level–he has considerable talent. And there is plenty of art that I find horrible and the product of no skill or talent. Christianity is violent–it brings the violence of Christ’s grace to a world that will kill him before accepting it. Whether or not one likes modern art, its virtue is that it does not flinch from the reality that we are really in trouble. And we really need help. People don’t want that in their offices and bedrooms. But what is appropriate over the couch or boardroom is not the standard for what makes art good.

  • Robin Leigh

    Hmmm, an interesting but extraordinarily judgemental and critical essay of one person’s viewpoint of another man’s life’s work.

    I’m not, nor have I ever been, a fan of Thomas Kinkade’s artwork; I personally find it formulaic, but that doesn’t mean all art must take us to the ‘end of ourselves’. And it’s absurd to declare that great art tears us down and rebuilds us. It evokes thought and introspection, most often temporarily, but it isn’t, never has been nor will ever be, our Salvation or a bestower of Grace. That gift is only conveyed through a relationship with an individual’s concept of and relationship with his or her God as they understand Him.

    Masterpieces of ‘religious art’ like Comon’s Land of Nod or Caravaggio’s The Entombment of Christ stand the test of time for their sheer beauty and ability to deeply convey the complexity of their subject matter, the momentous events they depict and emotions they are able to evoke. Yet based on their creator’s biographical histories, they didn’t imbue their originators with Grace. More often than not our labors don’t, whether they be delivered in the form of art, industry or other vocations. Our crafts and labors, whether or not widely revered, DO allow us the opportunity to express our highest form of spiritual connection…based on our own individual vision and capabilities.

    A man and his personal artistic expression may be viewed as callow even though is commercially successful. Ultimately it’s the passage of time and the embrace of future generations which determine final commercial and social value.

    It takes a particular form of bombast to declare any artist as a person fallen in nature (a failure) because he didn’t create art in a form that meets with the approval of the pretentious observations of a ‘sophisticated’ art afficianado. And in 2012 to straight-facedly declare Thomas Kinkade’s art as dangerous invokes visions of Torquemada.

    The argument in the article above loses all merit when one extends even a cursory examination of the many tragic, ruined lives of widely regarded great artists, often religious in practice and thought, throughout the ages.

    Using someone’s demise, particularly as a result of alcohol or drug addiction, as a rebuke for their artistic inadequacies and as a judgement of their frailties, percieved or otherwise, may be the harshest criticism of all. It certainly doesn’t reflect the highest spiritual qualities of compassion, understanding, love and acceptance and it displays very negatively the character of the author of this article.

    • Daniel A. Siedell

      Robin, My essay may indeed be judgmental and perhaps bombastic. I leave your personal bombastic judgments about my writing and motivations to you. Like Kinkade, I expose myself to the public forum and for better or worse, am commended or condemned. I think you are right to point out the tragic lives of artists like Caravaggio who produced great art. Where is God’s grace there? That is a fair question. I believe that the work can embody grace in a way the life can’t. Have you read my second post on Kinkade? I hope that corrects your view that I’m lacking in compassion, understanding, and love. But Kinkade is not the harmless victim you make him out to be. I believe he was a victim, but a victim of the images he produced and the pressure they exerted on him.

  • http://www.lanceschaubert.org lancelot

    I first thought of writing, “It’s about time someone exposed this Kinkade crap,” but then I decided to say this instead:

    I wish I would have thought of doing this and did it before you. I’m excited to see what follows…

    • Daniel A. Siedell

      lancet, Of the hundred or so who commented, you are in the minority. Glad you have my back!

  • Fred

    Wow. I suppose you *could* look at Kinkade’s work that way, it seems so empty, so bitter and self-degrading to do so.

    Not all art has to provoke us or raise questions or confront some dark corner of the soul. Much of our greatest art uplifts, expresses joy, highlights harmony, brings us moments of peace, or sparks wonderment. The same is true with music and poetry as well as visual and textural mediums. Think about it.

    Kinkade = nihilism? Don’t make me laugh!

  • Robin Leigh

    Brilliant?! More like an essay that deserves the response which observes that the Emporer has no clothes! It’s an overblown, pompous display of Mr. Siedell’s ego.

    • kevin peterson

      yeah, that was the feeling I got too.
      There’s no “there” there.
      So what if Kinkade’s painting are just nice to look at.

      • Deb

        They are like Barbie Dolls and televangelists wives! Too done up to really be nice to look at!

      • Daniel A. Siedell

        Deb, I agree with you. I don’t think, actually, Kinkade’s images are meant to be looked at, or looked at closely. We get the point in a brief second or two and then they hang on the wall or hold our coffee without a second thought. I actually don’t believe the argument that people who defend Kinkade actually are devoted to looking at his work closely and attentively. They have an “idea” of Kinkade’s work.

  • http://www.continuumarts.com Jim Allman

    Thanks Dan for the insight. The underlying message in this post reminds me of Francis Schaeffer when he characterizes most Christian art as “Sunday school art”. In “Art in the Bible”, he continues by describing the lie that many Christian artists perpetuate by shunning the reality of both fallen-ness and the requisite “ought” of grace. Thanks for giving us a tangible example of this truth and for being such a champion for truth in art: art that demands of us to engage the tragic rather than flee it.

    • Daniel A. Siedell

      Yes, Jim. Schaeffer is right on this one! Thanks for the support and the thoughts.

  • http://www.withouthavingseen.com Ryan Haber

    Very interesting piece. I have never liked Kinkade’s work. At first, my thought was that my tastes rebelled against it, but someone pointed out to me that he has scenery, but never with any people, and the animals tend to be as waxy as the houses and the trees. I thought, “Wow! Now that’s something!” Your piece articulates more of my concern against it. And the people-less-ness of the work is certainly nihilistic – it makes me think of slogans like “People are pollution” tossed around by the Zero Population Growth crowd.

    Now, I introduce the following under my own advice only, so please be gentle. You wrote, “the law kills God himself…” and – while hardly your main point – the idea that the Law is somehow opposed to Grace is something very much opposed to the Gospel and represents a typical Protestant misreading of St. Paul. Jesus, remember, said “For truly, I say to you, till heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the law until all is accomplished,” (Mt 5:18). The attitude – or when it is articulate, the belief – that the Law somehow opposes Grace is called antinomianism. It is dangerous and is a step on the path toward Marcion’s heresy of splitting God in two – one for the Old Testament and one for the New.

    The Hebrew word for Law, remember, is “Torah,” which also means “instruction” or “teaching.” And the Jews only felt it a burden when they were sinning. In their better moments, they were convinced it was a blessing from God.

    St. Paul himself gives hints all over the place that his use of the word “Law” is not simple, but nuanced and fluid: “For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has set me free from the law of sin and death,” (Rom 8:2). And just before that, in 7:7, St. Paul writes that the Law is not sin and death, but instructs us as to their meaning. He also speaks about a moral law written on men (Rm 2:15) which calls to mind the Deuteronomic injunction to lay onto our hearts the Law of God (Dt 6:7; 32:46). They rejoiced to have the Law revealed to them: “He has not dealt thus with any other nation; they do not know his ordinances. Praise the LORD!” (Ps 147:20).

    Now, I am not saying “Law=good; Spirit=bad.” I just saying that St. Paul’s views on the Law are nuanced and do not oppose the Law to Grace – nor should ours.

    In any event, I really look forward to your future pieces on Kinkade. More an more I sense that there really is a deep problem with his work and that it would not be so popular in a spiritually healthier age.

    • Daniel A. Siedell

      Hey Ryan, Thanks for getting at the real theological crux of my piece. It is classic Reformational thought (Luther and Calvin) to separate law and gospel. The law kills so the gospel can liberate. Such approach has been called antinomian. I wouldn’t call Luther a Marcionite heretic. But depending on your theological and ecclesial tradition, he is a heretic. I’m trying to work out some of the implications of the law-gospel distinction in subsequent posts. Thanks for catching what is most important in the piece, Ryan! Check out two websites, one is Mockingbird Ministries (www.mbird.com) and the other, in which I’m involved, is LIBERATE (www.liberatenet.org), which are dedicated to classic Reformational law-gospel distinction. Grace and Peace.

  • Greg Peterson

    I’m a former Christian, current atheist, so I’m not sure I have a dog in this hunt, but writing anything whatever critical (in the academic sense of the word) about Kincaid is like deconstructing “Footprints in the Sand.” Or writing discursus on Precious Moments figurines. Or comparing Kirk Cameron’s oeuvre to the French New Wave corpus. Or something. I have always considered it pure kitsch, “not even harmless” because it doesn’t have enough substance to merit any kind of category. Have we now run out of hungry, naked, imprisoned and ill people who need our help, so we can turn our attention to sentimental wall hangings? That is excellent news. I admit, I’m merely a humble humanist with no belief whatever in the supernatural, but I am delighted to learn that you Christians have come so far in vanquishing the ills that beset the children of Eve that we can now spend our time quibbling about junk.

    • Jeff Storck

      There is no such thing as a former Christian.

      • Greg Peterson

        Jeff, I suppose there is some small irony in the fact that when I was a Christian, I would have insisted the same thing.

    • Daniel A. Siedell

      Greg and Jeff, If by Christianity is what Kinkade’s work envisioned, I’d have become an atheist long ago! On one hand, Greg, I agree that Kinkade’s work, like those figurines, aren’t worth the intellectual calories spent to think about them. On the other hand, Kinkade’s strategy had been to set himself up as the most successful artist of all time, the painter of light, the corrective to the corruption in the modern art world, etc. And so when most people think about art, especially those from a religious or faith based perspective, they think of Kinkade’s work. As an educator, for one, provokes me to make the effort, hopeless as it is. Thanks for weighing in. Please keep reading my stuff.

  • http://Www.withouthavingseen.com Ryan Haber

    @Greg Peterson: please. You write as if feeding the hungry and attending to cultural trends are mutually exclusive. If we Christians ignored art, you would call us uncultured.

    • Greg Peterson

      Ah..Ryan, I just clicked on your name and saw your blog post on Chesterton. Crusty infidel that I am, I remain a huge fan of his writing, and consider it a great honor to have been able to introduce my daughter–who still is a Christian–to his work, which she read in its entirety over the past couple of years. So at least we have an appreciation for Chesterton in common. And by the way, THAT is a Christian cultural icon worth fighting for.

  • Greg Peterson

    Good point, Ryan. I was a “Mars Hill” Christian myself, so I get what you mean. I don’t see that spending more than five minutes on Kincaid improves the overall sense that you’re cultured, however.
    I perhaps overplayed my hand to make a point, and for that I apologize. But my central argument remains: this is not worth spending a lot of time on. And yet here I am, in here, responding to you, Ryan, so…physician, heal thyself, I guess, right?

    • http://www.withouthavingseen.com Ryan Haber

      Greg Peterson, thank you for your attention to my little blog. I like you. I like Chesterton. Wouldn’t it be great for the three of us to hang out together sometime? Alas, the grave! Lolol.

      I am not a Mars Hill Christian. I had to google “Mars Hill” and hoped it wasn’t a reference to the fourth rock from the sun, because then I’d be left scratching my head. I am a suburban parish Christian, and a shabby one, raised in what looks on the outside like a shabby parish, but which has a heart of solid gold: St. Martin of Tours, Gaithersburg, Maryland, where my sister was married and I hope to be buried, where the whole lot of us were baptized in Christ.

      I grant you that in himself, Kinkade’s work isn’t worth five minutes’ reflection. It is vacuous. It does have a huge fan-base though, including people – apparently, I had no idea – who see it as “Christian” art. Whether it is or isn’t deserves reflection for their sake, because we are what we eat. If we take in vacuity and nihilism coated in sugar, all the while telling ourselves we are Christians, we cannot be shocked to find that ten or twenty years later we are hollow men.

      You are right, in your basic gist, that a whole series might be overplaying things. It might be worthwhile to explore the potential bellyache caused by too much cotton candy, but it doesn’t seem to merit an encyclopedia of symptomology, does it?

      • Greg Peterson

        One last thing, and I shall trouble you no more forever: What I had in mind by “Mars Hill Christian” is a Christian who is aware of his culture and uses it as a way of introducing the faith to nonbelievers, as Paul did on Mars Hill, using the poets and statuary of his audience to help explain Christian concepts (“we are all his children”…”in him we live and move and ahve our being…” are both quotes from pagan poets, and then there was Paul’s gesture toward the idol “to an unknown god.”) The churches I attended tended to be shabby indeed. The one I got saved in was in an upper room over a musical instrument store that was rented out on the weekends. During my college years I mostly attended a poor Black Gospel church in St. Paul, MN. Once graduated, I went to a tiny–basically shed-like–Anglican church with an average age of maybe 80. And the last church I attended was held in a high school gymnasium. So I am completely unaccustomed to opulance in my worship settings. I should perhaps have chosen my allusion more carefully. At any rate, there you have it–I was not trying to convey wealth so much as cultural awareness and the ability to use classical and popular culture to share ideas, as you appear eager to do.

    • Daniel A. Siedell

      Greg and Ryan, Of course I’m the chiefest of sinners in this regard. I should have left Kinkade alone, but his work poses a huge obstacle to helping people get a deeper understanding of what art is and what it’s not. It’s not about having “taste” or appearing more intellectually savvy, it’s about being more human, and art allows us to do so. Unfortunately, Kinkade positioned his work as “Art” not as “figurines” and harmless visual amusements meant for distracted consumption. And so I fight a battle I’m not really interested in fighting in order to get to an open space.

  • B Pilgrim

    Kincade’s work was never about art, it was always about making money. I don’t believe he ever had any interest in art. He is another of the cynics who found a way to prey on Christians…but then again, they were willing to be preyed upon. Who likes this stuff? I don’t get it. And he made millions.

    • http://www.withouthavingseen.com Ryan Haber

      Greg Peterson, thank you for your attention to my little blog. I like you. I like Chesterton. Wouldn’t it be great for the three of us to hang out together sometime? Alas, the grave! Lolol.

      I am not a Mars Hill Christian. I had to google “Mars Hill” and hoped it wasn’t a reference to the fourth rock from the sun, because then I’d be left scratching my head. I am a suburban parish Christian, and a shabby one, raised in what looks on the outside like a shabby parish, but which has a heart of solid gold: St. Martin of Tours, Gaithersburg, Maryland, where my sister was married and I hope to be buried, where the whole lot of us were baptized in Christ.

      I grant you that in himself, Kinkade’s work isn’t worth five minutes’ reflection. It is vacuous. It does have a huge fan-base though, including people – apparently, I had no idea – who see it as “Christian” art. Whether it is or isn’t deserves reflection for their sake, because we are what we eat. If we take in vacuity and nihilism coated in sugar, all the while telling ourselves we are Christians, we cannot be shocked to find that ten or twenty years later we are hollow men.

      You are right, in your basic gist, that a whole series might be overplaying things. It might be worthwhile to explore the potential bellyache caused by too much cotton candy, but it doesn’t seem to merit an encyclopedia of symptomology, does it?

      • http://www.withouthavingseen.com Ryan Haber

        Oops. I replied to the wrong post. Apologies.

      • Greg Peterson

        Ryan, from your post and comments, I know we’d have a blast if we hung out. And with Chesterton, too? Wow.

        Hey, you do a terrific job, Ryan, and I love people who care enough about something–anything–to think and write provoke thought on the matter, which you plainly have done here. Anyone can say anything they want about your little post, but it did get at least one atheist to think about spiritual things, and that’s not nothing.

        Thanks for responding.

        • Daniel A. Siedell

          Ryan and Greg, I wrote a book called God in the Gallery: A Christian Approach to Modern Art (2008) that might be helpful in this conversation.

  • Penny Hammack

    I once had to spend 2 weeks in a re-hab facility. After I had been incarcerated there for about an hour I called my son and asked him to get me out of there because there were nothing but Kincade ripoffs on every available wall. He didn’t but I spent the whole two weeks averting my eyes. I don’t necessarily like Jackson Pollock either but at least it doesn’t make my diabetes worse to have to look at his work. Yet I have friends who think Kincade is the best artist ever. To each his own. Art, like Munch’s the scream or the Holbein painting should make us think, make us want for this world to be a better place but not to bask in some sappy world that never was.

    • Daniel A. Siedell

      Penny, Your comments are very valuable. The alternative to Kinkade doesn’t have to be Pollock, Munch or Holbein, but there are alternatives. You certainly sensed something wrong about those seemingly harmless images.

  • Fedelynn Jemena

    *sigh* The way you described Kinkade’s art is the way some Christians I know (thankfully, just a few) see how their fellow Christians should be. They don’t like the dark side of humanity and won’t accept it. Anyone who does see life as a balance of dark and light is considered “of doubtful character.”

  • Damon

    I can’t wait to tell my daughter that, after reading this article I find her drawings of happy horsies trotting on perfect grass under a bright sun to be dangerously nihilistic and terrifying. I’ll tell her that her pretty rainbows remind me of the Joker’s jagged, scarred smile. And then I’ll tell her to get “serious” about her art and start working harder to portray the innate hopelessness of our lives. Yeah, that’s what I’ll do.

    • Bryan Hersman

      Ha! Now that is what I call art! You sir are a true master of light. I was beginning to think I completely just wasted 15 minutes of my life reading this tripe, but your comment has made my whole night!

    • Wilma

      Yes, Damon, you need to do that, and quickly, before she becomes warped and believes that there is goodness and happiness in this world. Please, help her to see all the darkness and horror so that she will be oh-so-intellectually enlightened. What a bunch of pretentious drivel some of these people spout!!

    • Daniel A. Siedell

      Damon, My daughter loved your response! And in fact, she’s been quoting it to me for the past two weeks. We’re talking about two very different things, I wouldn’t degrade your daughter’s or any other children’s drawings by comparing them to Kinkade. The virtue of a child’s drawing is their innocence, their desire to represent the world and their feelings about the world with limited skills but without the cultural training to teach them “how to look” and what the images “should” look like. That is why many modern artists, from Gauguin and Picasso to Matisse and many others, admired the work of children. They in fact tried to copy that innocence and naiveté in their work. I’ll plan a post on the virtue of children’s drawings soon.

      • Bryan Hersman

        Dan, now you seem to be contradicting yourself a bit. So it would be impossible for a simpleton like Kinkade to capture the innocence of child-like art where the artists you mentioned had less success? So maybe a more positive assessment of Kinkade would be “He captures to beauty of child-like innocence with more then Crayola’s 64 colors.” Rather then, “He’s Satan’s painter!”

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  • Jimmy

    I think it’s right to critique Kinkade, but I think his pre-Fall preoccupation is more autobiographical than an intentional deception. He’s not trying to trick us, he’s just trying to remember what life was like before he screwed his up. It’s about unfulfilled potential and a longing for innocence, not a conscious attempt to avoid reality.

  • http://www.ShannonsArtRoom.com Shannon W

    A well written point of view, although we will never know for sure what was in Kinkade’s heart. Most artists have a style or a general focus, so I am not sure we should criticize him for that. Even preachers do that. It is frustrating when preachers do it so much that they don’t preach on sin and the realities therein… but Kinkade never claimed to be a preacher. Maybe he was trying to depict what grace and serenity looks like, since we all crave it. Maybe craving it so much himself and falling short is what caused him to stumble in his own life. Or, maybe he was stumbling in his own life all along and that is what drove his own craving of grace, light and serenity so much that it showed up in all his paintings. Maybe, early on, he simply discovered a theme that did so well he went with it as long as it continued to succeed.

    What have I learned from his life and art? He has taught me that great artistic success, even with the support of many Christians, still doesn’t fulfill. As a Christian artist who craves more success at what I do, this is a good reminder. And no matter how much we have in this world, and no matter how much we try to feel serene and peaceful amidst the darkness, it isn’t enough. Serenity and peace (from the light in this world) do not come from the absence of struggle and trouble, but only from the presence of Christ. Did Kinkade know that or did he simply imply it to sell paintings? We’ll never know and I am not sure we can or should try to discern the answer from his paintings.

    • David

      With the exception of his “creating art without the fall” comment and the testimony of his fruitless life (e.g., divorce, live-in mistress, etc.) you are right… we can’t know his heart.

    • Daniel A. Siedell

      Shannon W, You’re probably right. What I do think is interesting to consider is the potential that the images we produce “speak” in a voice that is not identical with the voice of their maker. I don’t necessarily believe that by analyzing images we get at what the maker believed or felt so much as the fact that these images do things that the maker didn’t consider.

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  • http://rosenzweigshmuesn.blogspot.com/ Daniel Imburgia

    Yes, a provocative post. Of course, it is always very problematic to make judgements about an artist based on his work, even less so what the artist says (why should we trust language more than paint?). A friend, thinking that since I am an artist that I would be interested, suggested this blog post to me. But once I saw it was a “Patheos” blog I almost skipped it. I rarely read ‘monetized‘ blogs, I find they tend towards tabloidist hyperbole to generate traffic and profits. But by coincidence I recently wrote a post titled: “Killing God,” on my own blog on Holbein’s ‘Dead Christ,’ addressing Julia Kristeva’s book on depression and melancholia as well as Dostoyevsky “The Idiot” that you reference. But perhaps Kinkade, surprisingly subscribed to the philosophy of the polyanish Nietzsche who wrote, “we have art in order not to die of the truth?” I am I am an Icon painter myself, and let me remind you that painters are deceivers by trade. Perhaps art should, as you write, “probe the depths of human suffering and brokenness,” well, I’v done a bit of that probing and it reads better than it feels. Like Holbein, I have painted the face of Christ many times, I am not always comfortable looking into the eyes of Jesus as I paint. I may work on an Icon for months, even years, and through the whole process the eyes of Jesus seem to continually question me, judge me, call me to examine myself; not condemning me but searching out my vanity, hypocrisy, pride, selfishness. I am sure this whole experience is caught up in some abnormal psychology resulting form the absent, critical, angry, and abusive father and step-fathers I had growing up. Still, It is often a disturbing and painful experience. Painting an Icon should be a spiritual journey for the artist and when one finishes the artist should be able to reflect back on what was learned. It took me some years but eventually I learned to always paint the eyes of Jesus last. I was sorry to hear of the death of brother Kinkade, I pray he found the perfect light he so longed for, obliged.

    • http://rosenzweigshmuesn.blogspot.com/ Daniel Imburgia

      Sorry for the typos, obliged.

    • Daniel A. Siedell

      Daniel, thanks for the heads up on your post. I’ll have to check that out. I friend told me that he thinks Holbein’s predella painting was indeed intended as an altarpiece, but it never came to fruition. That would be interesting. I’m planning a future post on icons and evangelicals in the weeks to come. Thanks for your thoughtful post. Also, it is indeed difficult and problematic to look at the work and come to conclusions about the artist.

  • Boris Henri

    “Before the Fall,” huh? So Kinkade’s contribution to “Christian art” is that life would be beautiful if…there was no need for Christ?

    I’ve always thought the “before the Fall” explanation was just a made-up rationalization for using hyper-pastels and absurd lighting to sell to the unicorns and Dreamsicles crowd.

    Seriously, the most offensive thing about that painting is that there are at least three suns: one visible in the background sky, one near the viewer (to cast that stark shadow of the tree on the front of the cabin), and one off to the left making the shadows of the trees by the shore fall to the right. Kinkade was too technically competent to not know what he was doing with such ridiculous lighting.

    • Daniel A. Siedell

      Boris, You might have been right about his “before the Fall” comment. I agree with you about his technical competence.

  • Lindaangellady

    Philippians 4:8 Finally, brethren, whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report; if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think on these things. You don’t feel good or positive by staring and focusing on the negative… Beauty is in the eye of the beholder. I know I liked his work even though I wouldn’t buy one. I also know I don’t like Pollaock, nor would I buy one or have it on my wall. To each his own and to now criticize after his death and try to put more negativity in to his work… You are wrong! 2 Peter 2:11 yet even angels, although they are stronger and more powerful, do not bring slanderous
    accusations against such beings in the presence of the Lord…. I think we have better things to do. Stop It!

    • Daniel A. Siedell

      Lindaangellady, I will stop only if you stop reading my posts. Deal?

  • mel

    If I’m stupid because I don’t comprehend the deep meaning of this article, I’m at last thankful for being dumb because I thought the article garbage.

    • Wilma

      Mel, me, too…me, too! I may be shallow, stupid, dumb, or whatever, but I have peace, and it doesn’t EVER come from a bottle. If I thought the kinds of things some of these folks do, I would definitely have to medicate myself to just get up every morning!

  • Reed

    Many years ago I wrote a paper on C.S. Lewis and the concept of “sehnsucht.” Quoting wiki:

    Lewis described Sehnsucht as the “inconsolable longing” in the human heart for “we know not what.” In the afterword to the third edition of “The Pilgrim’s Regress” he provided examples of what sparked this desire in him particularly:

    “That unnameable something, desire for which pierces us like a rapier at the smell of bonfire, the sound of wild ducks flying overhead, the title of ‘The Well at the World’s End,’ the opening lines of ‘Kublai Khan,’ the morning cobwebs in late summer, or the noise of falling waves.”

    Kinkade’s work seems to me to be his own admittedly sentimental attempt to evoke sehnsucht, probably because he had experienced it himself. Given his own sad story, I’m sure he was full of longing for something better and more pristine. And given this world and what it does to us, is that longing inappropriate? Or is it, as Lewis believed, a signpost pointing to our fallenness and our need for redemption?

    Kinkade paintings make me a little sad. They evoke in me half-remembered images of Christmases past, little bits of beauty and peace and yes, love, in a world gone bad . I’m under no illusions about the world I live in and whether it can be reclaimed by human effort, no matter how well-intentioned.

    Maybe it’s not an unfallen world that Kinkade painted, but a world restored, or at least such a world as imagined in his mind’s eye? And is that so wrong? Is that not what scripture gives us with its imagery of lions lying down with lambs?

    Besides, Kincade was a folk artist like Norman Rockwell and Grandma Moses. His work was for popular consumption. I doubt he ever once thought he was making a deep statement, and I think it’s a little absurd to say something like “from a theological perspective, his work is not merely problematic, it is dangerous.” Do you REALLY think anyone has been, is, or will be, led astray by a Kinkade painting?

    • sandi

      very nice thoughts, balanced.
      I work at an exclusive Christian Camp in California. The people that attend this camp are the clients of Thomas Kinkade. Generalized statement, but they are the kind of people who have invested huge amounts of money to own original works and large expensive reproductions. Again, in general, there worldview is that Christianity intend is to bring about the kind of world Kinkade paints; through money, political power and self-assertion. What is missing is the gospel message of personal surrender to Christ as Lord, every minute of every day. It is replaced with a social club that has the “right” ideas and needs to assert those ideas to change the world so that we can all have “peace”. The Norman Rockwell sort of ‘peace’; not the peace that passes all understanding. I would agree that Kinkades painting are not leading people down the wrong path, perhaps not dangerous in and of themselves. But just all art historically reflects what is going on in the culture; the appeal of his work certainly reflects something very dangerous in the church. Dangerous as unto death verses ‘real’ life in Christ.

      • Daniel A. Siedell

        Sandi, Thank you for your insight and thoughts.

    • Daniel A. Siedell

      Reed, Great thoughts. I don’t necessarily think Kinkade’s images led anyone astray, although I do believe that they contribute to coating North American Christians and pseudo-Christians with the comfort that they’re doing okay, things are going to be just fine–a bit like a talisman. However, Idon’t think Kinkade was a folk artist–both Rockwell, who was an illustrator and made paintings ONLY to have them photographed for reproduction–and Grandma Moses, who truly was a folk artist–are far superior as artists than Kinkade.

  • David LaChance

    I’ve been saying this for years, though not as eloquently.

    In A.W. Pink’s ‘Gospel of Satan’ we have a full on view of this “Angel of Light”:

    “The gospel of Satan is not a system of revolutionary principles, nor yet a program of anarchy. It does not promote strife and war, but aims at peace and unity. It seeks not to set the mother against her daughter nor the father against his son, but fosters the fraternal, spirit whereby the human race is regarded as one great “brotherhood”. It does not seek to drag down the natural man, but to improve and uplift him. It advocates education and cultivation and appeals to “the best that is within us”. It aims to make this world such a congenial and comfortable habitat that Christ’s absence from it will not be felt and God will not be needed. It endeavors to occupy man so much with this world that he has no time or inclination to think of the world to come. It propagates the principles of self-sacrifice, charity and benevolence, and teaches us to live for the good of others, and to be kind to all. It appeals strongly to the carnal mind and is popular with the masses, because it ignores the solemn facts that by nature man is a fallen creature, alienated from the life of God, and dead in trespasses and sins, and that his only hope lies in being born again.”

    The irony of Kinkade passing on Good Friday cannot be ignored.

    • Daniel A. Siedell

      Agreed. Did you read my second post on Kinkade? It’s hard not to see something amiss in Kinkade’s paintings after one has read C.S. Lewis’s The ScrewTape Letters.

  • Adam

    Trying too hard. The fact that you invoked a theologian from my alma mater to justify one of your arguments makes it even worse.

    I think Reed’s comments above are on the mark.

    • Daniel A. Siedell

      I think Reed’s comments are excellent. What does your alma mater have to do with it? Not sure I’m the one that’s trying too hard here, bro.

  • http://seldomwrong.blogspot.com SWNID

    I’m not so much surprised that a piece critical of Kinkade would be pilloried, not so much surprised that Christians could at once say that they know nothing of art history or criticism and at the same time decry an article of art criticism as garbage, not so much surprised that Christians could say that paintings have no theological significance when their creator says they have. But I am sad that so many Christians think so little of creation, the incarnation and the cross.

    The only criticism sharper than what the artist receives from the critic is what the critic receives from the public. Critics are supposed to make us feel good about liking what we like. Just enjoy the pictures.

    In my youth in the 1970s, Francis Schaeffer taught me to look for the human condition in great art, regardless of views of the artist who created it. Thomas Kinkade deliberately peddled his schlock to Christians with a pseudo-theological justification for its crassly commercial combination of realism and fantasy. Thanks, Dr. Siedell, for helping me to see how Schaeffer’s insight explains why in my mind and heart I am not just indifferent to but repulsed by Kinkade’s decorations.

    • Daniel A. Siedell

      SWNID, Thanks for the supportive comments. Schaeffer is very important in this conversation! Your first paragraph is incredibly insightful–I wish I’d have written that!

  • David K. Monroe

    Contra Michael Horton, is it not true that the Law also came after the fall, just like the Gospel? The idea that the world “before the fall” is a world necessarily implies a world “under the Law” seems like nonsense to me. A unfallen world would be one in which the original fellowship between God and creation was never broken. It would not be a world without grace, it would be one in which grace is free to permeate everything. Without the fall, there would be no need for the Law.

    This is not to argue for the quality of Kinkade’s vision though, because there’s nothing really authentically “Christian” at all in the vision of an unfallen world. Furthermore, it is a fantasy as nothing else is fantasy, as it has no correspondence with reality. Even the most fantastic of fictional stories is stricken with the tensions of a fallen, broken, incomplete reality. An unfallen, unbroken, complete fantasy world arguably has nothing to say to us.

    Ultimately however, I think that Kinkade’s explanation of his vision was probably not terribly well thought-out, and more likely an apologia for creating art that does not reflect tension, suffering, disappointment and brokenness. He wanted to create art which reflects a simple and unchallenging standard of beauty (although many find it less than entirely beautiful) and sell it to a lot of people. And in that, he succeeded.

    • Daniel A. Siedell

      David, For Horton, the law indeed precedes the Fall–it has to, for God’s law is articulated at the very beginning, “Do not eat from this tree, etc.” the Law exists–and has always existed–for the sole purpose of reminding us that we do not measure up and that we need God’s righteousness in Christ.

      I do think you’re right about Kinkade’s comment about before the fall.

  • casey

    ZZZZZ

    • Daniel A. Siedell

      Casey, I cannot believe that you even wasted two seconds typing out your snooze-ville blast. Must have left an impression of some kind.

  • Bishop Abernathy

    Siedell’s harsh and decidely un-Christian attack on Thomas Kinkade is not unexpected coming from a disciple of the mercy-hating Francis Schaefer. Indeed, Siedell’s atrocious work “God in the Gallery” made me wonder what sort of mind-bending neopagan sophistry the author engaged in to reconcile his Christianity and modern art.

    Siedell judges the dead Thomas Kinkade and lets us know that he, Siedell, will be crucifying Kinkade anew in a future series of ravening cheap shot opportunistic pieces. Kinkade is dead and cannot defend himself, thus making a perfect target for the craven Daniel Siedell.

    • Bagheera

      Thank you for a sane comment. I will never be able to take Siedell seriously. I usually expect to see this kind of reasoning from the likes of Hal Lindsey or some other whack job. Good grief, I am just dumbfounded!

    • Daniel A. Siedell

      Bishop Abernathy, Thank you for reading my book, God in the Gallery. With the way you treat Schaeffer and me, it sounds like you’re not above crucifying others (including a dead guy) and slandering them either! Bagheera, Hal Lindsey? You can do better than that! I suggest you read my book and the hundreds of other essays and lectures I have available on the internet about modern art, theology, and the like.

      Gratefully,

      The craven Daniel Siedell.

    • Richard Terrell

      “Mercy-hating Francis Schaeffer?” Wha . . .? Huh? That’s not very cogent.

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  • Perchboy

    I’m hardly a fan of Kinkade’s work. So he painted peaceful settings. Is it fair to shred him when he can’t defend himself?

    • Daniel A. Siedell

      Perchboy, Those are indeed fair questions to ask, and ones that I considered before writing the post. My answer was yes. Have you read my follow-up post on Kinkade?

  • Bagheera

    . . . and this is precisely what the saying “A devil behind every bush” was made for. Next in your series, you’ll be telling us how the antichrist is secretly embedded in Kinkade’s paintings. Oh the horror!

    • Daniel A. Siedell

      Bagheera, No, I plan to move on, probably write about Vincent Gallo and his film Buffalo 66; Tarkovsky’s Andrei Rublev; icons and evangelicals; a post on Moby-Dick and the Unpreached God. How about you, what are you moving on to? I’ll make sure to tag every post, “Thomas Kinkade,” though.

  • Joel

    It is only natural (and not a depraved naturalism) for people to desire “peaceful retreats” at times. Consider David’s poetic descriptions of God’s creation in order to encourage himself, or Jesus’ retreat to the peaceful “garden” the night before his death, or the amazing descriptions in Revelation of the new creation in which everything will be perfect once again (no more tears). Even if Kinkade liked to see his art as “pre-Fall” pictorial images, I would prefer to see them as “post-fall” imagery as we consider the future of God’s righteous rule. In the meantime, God can sustain and strengthen us with this imagery and remind us of the future hope we have in God’s perfect and righteous rule of a renewed creation.

    • Daniel A. Siedell

      Joel, You are right. I think peaceful retreats are important. But they are retreats. Not a world unto themselves. The problems with Las Vegas, Disney, etc. is that they work to deny that they are retreats. He can use this imagery to sustain and strengthen us, without question. And I would suggest that even my criticism of it and the discussion that has ensued has strengthened, challenged, and sustained me.

  • justathought

    Many of the criticisms of this article could have been applied to Monet, Cuyp (who had a ‘glow’ of his own), and Lorrain – whose paintings were complimented by Constable thusly: “all is lovely – all amiable – all is amenity and repose; the calm sunshine of the heart.”
    If it is a sin to only paint that which is hopeful and/or serene, then some of the greatest artists of all time are the most guilty.

    • Daniel A. Siedell

      Justathought, If you have ever seen the work of those guys in person, you wouldn’t ever compare them to Kinkade’s. However, in reproduction, they can all look alike. No, it’s not a sin to paint hope or produce work that embodies serenity, but I don’t think Kinkade’s work does that. It is impossible to describe but there is a substance to serenity, amenity and repose that Kinkade’s work entirely lacks.

  • Jeff C

    When did Kinkade ever claim theological premises for his work? Because he once claimed he would like to imagine earth “before the fall?” Holbein’s obvious intention was to cast aspersion upon Christ – how on earth would one find such a thing in a Kinkade painting? Sounds like Mr. Siedell needs to crawl out from his academic cave and learn to enjoy what millions of others have – a Thomas Kinkade painting.

    • Daniel A. Siedell

      Jeff, I will not follow millions of others to Kinkade’s work. I do however, take it seriously. Holbein’s intention actually wasn’t to cast aspersions on Christ. Read my follow up post on Kinkade. I don’t dwell (any more) in an academic cave. I work for a church. Change things a bit?

  • Eric

    Thank you for the great article. To say that Kincaid never made any theological claims as an excuse, is to say that artists can separate their work from their selves. That is duplicitous and dangerous, and cheapens his (and others’) art to Walmart standards…which is where I think his work belongs anyways.

    • Daniel A. Siedell

      Thanks, Eric. I appreciate it.

  • Heather D.

    I didn’t realize every artist was obligated to produce art that depicts the fallenness, brokenness, sinfulness of the world. I also see a “pretty painting”. Its better to leave the judgement to God, Himself.

    • Daniel A. Siedell

      Heather, I will leave the ultimate judgment to the Lord himself, and trust that he will have mercy on Kinkade as he will have mercy on me. However, that doesn’t mean that I cannot produce judgments about his work. That’s what critics do. Unless you think that the job of critic is unbliblical? I tend to think that St. Paul thought of us critics when he said, “take ery thought captive.” I actually do think an artist is obligated to start from brokenness, sinfulness, and fallenness–that’s the only chance we have to receive grace.

  • cherylu

    I haven’t read all of this lengthy comment thread so I don’t know how many may have expressed the same thoughts that I have.

    Very frankly, I have enough reminders constantly of the ugliness of this world, and of the depravity of mankind. I don’t want art work on the walls of my home that remind me constantly of that ugliness too. Sometimes the human soul just plain needs a reprieve from the ugliness that we see all around us. There are enough things in this world to cause depression without having ugliness or violence depicted in the decor of our homes too.

    And one more thing. We have to have art to remind us of who we are as human beings? We must have art to confront us and bring us to an end of ourselves? Shucks, here I always thought that was the business of the Holy Spirit and the Word of God! It seems to me extremely presumptous to state that we “must” have art for these things to be accomplished.

    • Daniel A. Siedell

      Cherylu, I can’t agree with you more. I’m not arguing for art that is ugly and depressing. I’m arguing for an art that honestly embraces the human condition. The problem with Kinkade’s images is that by starting in some idealized place, his work is unable to offer grace, mercy, and true beauty. I don’t think I’m presumptuous, I’m just looking at several hundred years of artistic tradition. You are correct that it is the Word of God brought to us through the Holy Spirit. But I cannot abide by art that is decoration, an escape from the rigors of life, because it dulls our sensitivity to the work of the Word and Spirit.

  • BamaGrits

    Here’s a link to an article in Guideposts, a well-known inspirational publication, BY Kinkade several years ago. He explains how he developed this style & what it means to him. I think it kind of trumps this article’s guessing game. http://www.guideposts.org/inspirational-stories/seeker-of-faith-painter-of-light

    • Daniel A. Siedell

      BamaGrits,

      Thanks for this link. I should post it on my two posts on Kinkade. I remember reading it some time ago. However, I don’t think it trumps my piece because his imagery certainly doesn’t reflect the claims he makes for it.

  • roberthunt

    I fear that the writer of the article comes close to forgetting that while Christ’s suffering is redemptive, human suffering is not. It needs to be redeemed. In any case I’m not sure Kincaid needs to be analyzed through a law/grace lens, a lens which represents only one of many Christian approaches to the role of art in deepening our sense of ourselves and of God’s grace. The sweated agonies of humans struggling beneath their burden of sin and evil until through some catharsis of the Spirit they emerge in the light of God’s grace is less the paradigm of Christian life than a reiteration of a particular mode of spirituality currently popular in some strands of American Christian culture for historical reasons. We don’t all need to be Luther, or Augustine, or Wesley.

    • Daniel A. Siedell

      Roberthunt, I grant your reluctance to see the law-gospel distinction as a productive lens through which to see Kinkade’s work. I don’t believe human suffering is redemptive. My claim is much more modest. Human suffering is necessary for authentic art.

  • Debbie

    I found the article interesting and look forward to further thoughts. I have never cared for Kinkade’s art. I do not consider myself an artist, nor a cultured critiquer of art. I probably didn’t even spell that right. So I never looked at his painting quite so deep – and wouldn’t have thought more of them than I do a watercolor of a barn, or any outdoor scene that you will see in photography or paintings. It never occurred to me that in Kinkade’s painting there is never anything broken (well, I haven’t searched out every painting, but in general it seems that way). A water color of a barn scene will have it as it is, and surely there will be some evidence of the fall. Some brokenness somewhere. So you have provoked some movement in my brain, and I still am not sure what I think. I did find Sandi’s comments above very interesting:

    http://www.patheos.com/blogs/cultivare/2012/05/the-dark-light-of-thomas-kinkade/#comment-152

    • Daniel A. Siedell

      Thanks for your honesty and thoughtfulness, Debbie. Like you, I’m still not sure how I feel about Kinkade’s work, but, unlike you, I feel the urge to think out loud and in public! Keep reading my posts, I need readers like you. In fact, you’re the kind of reader I write for.

  • Tony

    You a sad person. There is a place for all things and although you find so much that is wrong in his work, many find something that touches them. I disagree with every angry word of yours because you lack the vision to see what is not there. To see the frozen moment with out anticipation. The painting you selected one knows there is rot in the wood, ants in the ground, and possibly flesh eating bacteria in the water, however the intention is to show the beauty of the moment. Munch did not paint the subject on a cliff or at the edge of the water. Holbein painted a dead Christ, yet belivers know he rose from the dead. That is bold to show what few show. That one unseen act in the drama of Christ. This is not the final act but a scene which apparently some get lost in. You do not have to show the ugly all the time. In the scream the subject is horribly lost. We see this, however he is on a bridge. There is hope in his ability to move.
    I do not care much for Kinkade, but your diatribe is a waste of time, energy, and space. To each his own.

    • John Inglis

      I agree that one does not have to show the ugly all the time, but I do not see him as writing that or taking that viewpoint. One fails to read charitably and accurately if all one sees when one reads is an angry diatribe. I read a very insightful and provoking piece of prose. I may not agree with everything in it, but I can see that the author is making what he sincerely believes are very serious points. To read him otherwise is to be too readily dismissive.

    • Daniel A. Siedell

      Tony, To each his own? Yet you call me a sad person and thus deny that for me? I’m sorry you felt that my piece was merely a “diatribe.”

  • http://www.paulkuritz.com Paul Kuritz

    Before the Fall. This is also the state to which New Jerusalem will return us. The only “law” before the fall way a singular one: do not eat of one tree. The Law came with expulsion from the garden. Before the Fall, as in the New Jerusalem, there is none of the hopelessness, violence and despair Mr. Seidell thinks is needed in Mr. Kincade’s work. I think Mr. Kincade’s theological and Biblical understanding is truer than Mr. Seidell’s.

    • Daniel A. Siedell

      Paul, You are wrong theologically. The New Jerusalem will not return us to a state before the fall. I suggest your read Revelation 21-22 again.

  • Robin

    I have it firsthand, from TK’s closest art colleague, TK painted like he did for $$$ plain and simple. Period.
    He spoke frequently of adapting the style only because of the money it made. Apparently, he did have a sophisticated ability and talent he purposely denied to be successful.

    No one knows what his inner religious ideas were – especially considering his regard towards his profession – which proved to be solely based on greed and exploiting the market with his “brand”.

    If this is true (and I think it is) it’s a lesson for all to avoid the love of money.

    How tragic he could not console himself in the true talent he had and instead was trapped in the star-making machinery.

    • John Inglis

      I think your point becomes all the more obvious when one looks at his very early works, and sees how different they are from his later, commercialized work.

      • Daniel A. Siedell

        John, The Gospel Coalition had an article on Kinkade’s work a few years ago that discussed this transition, from work that looks serious to illustrations. I think there is something to that.

    • Daniel A. Siedell

      Robin, That is indeed sad.

  • Allison

    I almost can’t believe this discussion is really happening, but I guess it is the internet after all.
    Minor criticism before I move any further: Edvard Munch’s Scream has no charcoal in it. Nice to see that you hold the painting in such high regard. If you really want art that challenges and reminds of horror, try Francis Bacon on for size. He’s a post-war British painter.

    I don’t really see what nihilism has to do with this. Nihilism is about anarchy and destructiveness, rejecting institutions and structure. Kinkade’s painting are formulaic and all about appealing to the ordinary buyer. Which to me seems like the opposite of nihilism.

    Now I’m no fan of his art. I do, as a painter recognize the skill required to do these. As a painter I also know the various pulls and demands of inspiration, the market, and what painters are taught to paint. In the end which of those forces does one listen to? His work is hardly insidious due to its obvious market appeal. I also think that despite what he may have said about his work, it doesn’t really matter. It matters what his buyers get out of it. If they get peace and encouragement out of it, good on them. One can’t possibly challenge themselves all the time, that isn’t any healthier than never challenging yourself.

    • John Inglis

      The market appeal, and the pandering to that market both in the initial work and then in the pimping of that work to the masses that merely want their ears tickled is exactly part of the problem and precisely why it is so insidious. Reader / viewer response is a legitimate form of attending to a work, but if one’s response is only shallow and never gets any deeper then that shallowness reveals a defect in the work, the viewer, or both. I think that Kinkaides work is nihilistic at least in part because it destroys the need for, reality of, and recognition of the work of Christ and in so doing destroys any real hope we have beyond this world.

    • Daniel A. Siedell

      Allison, Agreed. Charcoal was a mistake: oil and pastel. I knew better. Thanks for bringing it to my attention. I guess I don’t hold the painting in that high regard. Who knew? I think you’re right that it’s important to consider the other considerations he had (market, etc.). I hope you’ve taken the time to read my post on the Anxiety of Culture in which I discuss that. I think nihilism is more complicated than you state. Would you argue that narcotics are justified if they make their users feel good and take them away from the judgment and difficulty they experience all around them?

  • G T Smith
    • Daniel A. Siedell

      I wonder what the art and theology faculty at Union University think about this response to my piece? Since I know them, I have a hunch….

  • nnmns

    Wow, who knew what a dangerous place the world is! Thomas Kinkade’s trite pictures turn out to be horribly dangerous. Until now I never had any desire to own one.

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  • http://tirralirramango.wordpress.com Emily

    Kinkade’s art has always repulsed, irritated, & just bothered me since I first saw it as a little girl — and I could never lay a finger on why. This article says it perfectly, thoughtfully, and I think correctly. I don’t believe that art is, at its very core, just a pretty or ugly picture. Kudos to Siedell! I’m passing this on.

  • Warren Brown

    Clearly then, the answer is to surround ourselves with scenes of despair and torture, photos of Auschwitz, the killing fields of Cambodia, Stalin’s iron reign over Ukraine, Mao’s “Great Leap Forward,” and images of aborted fetuses. Indeed, cut down forests, eradicate grass and flowers, build giant black-painted domes to live under, all to ensure that we never see any reminder of beauty, so that we may ever live in penance and abject groveling as befits our fallen nature. Surely we deserve no more, and only a life such as this can bring us to true repentance and faith.

    • Warren Brown

      What I was trying to say was that this review had all the depth and insight I would expect from a sophomore English class assignment. You get a C.

      • John Inglis

        You need to learn to read, else you would have found more depth in the lede post. Your “C” is scoring of your ability to appreciate art critically and your ability to understand critical prose.

    • Daniel A. Siedell

      Warren, Aborted fetuses? First, Kinkade’s work isn’t beautiful. It’s perhaps pretty in the sense that a Barbie Doll is pretty (HT: one of my commentors!). There’s a distinction. The alternative to Kinkade is the killing fields? It is honesty and a personal vision. Kinkade’s images are what “we all think about when we think of a Edenic environment.” A C? You must be a tough grader. What’s an A? In my art history classes, I’m a lot less judgmental. Ironic, isn’t it?

  • http://booandkari.blogspot.com/ Boo and Kari

    I don’t own a Kincaide painting, partly because they seem “too perfect” for my tastes. Having said that, I do enjoy some of them. The cabin at the lakeside scene is lovely. It reminds me of those moments inwhich I think, “If only life could stay like this. I want to remember this moment.” Life isn’t all beauty, peace and calm, but it CAN be those things. Usually, it’s the beauty in the midst of disorder, the peace in the midst of chaos and the calm in the midst of violence. God brings Himself to us where we are. That’s what I really like to remember. Still, I think there’s a place for only beauty in art. Maybe sometimes we’re so wounded that we need the explict beauty of a Kincaide.

    • Daniel A. Siedell

      Boo and Kari, I’m almost with you. But the problem is that there are real artists that have actually painted such rural scenes that are indeed beautiful–like John Constable. I don’t think Kinkade’s work is beautiful. It’s garish. Look at Constable’s work. I’ll take Constable over Munch. But not Kinkade over Munch!

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  • John Inglis

    Everything we do in life reflects our outlook, our values, our way of being in the world, and hence our theology. Consequently, Kinkade’s “art” did reflect his theology even if it was an unconscious reflection and even if he was so lacking in insight that he never realized it. Noart is ever “just a pretty picture”, though one can shallowly treat it is such. Those who find Kinkaide’s paintings “comforting”, etc. need to reexamine their own lives, and the popluarity of what he did puts on open display some of the serious failings of American evangelicalism.

    Kinkade’s “art” is so deficient in so many ways, that it is open to multiple levels of criticism, not just the one in the lede post. His overt commercialization and pimping of his “art” also deserves comment, for example.

    John I.

    • Daniel A. Siedell

      Good thoughts, John. Thanks for the support.

  • Laura

    Sometimes I feel like people are using “theology” as a means to denegrate other believers. We are all at different places on our path and I don’t see any reason for this discussion/judgment on his artwork. I find it pointless to tear down Kinkade’s attempt at creating beauty in his own way. I am particularly concerned by this line: “If only Kinkade could have used his considerable artistic gifts to produce work that came out of his fear, anger, desperation, and his struggle with faith in Christ, he just might have become a painter of Light.” Do we not know that fear is from Satan? As Paul admonished: “Finally, brethren, whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report; if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think on these things.” (Phil 4:8) Is Kinkade not tormented enough for you? Maybe he is using his earthly surroundings to breate the beauty that he thinsks we might see in heaven. Either way, I think there are certainly much weightier matters to consider than whether or not Kinkade is a true Christianity. Nothing annoys me more than people who use Christianity or theology as a weapon with which to beat other believers over the head.

  • http://www.signetart.com Brenda Simonson-Mohle

    Mr. Siedell,
    What and interesting point of view! As an art consultant and appraiser I never gave Thomas Kinkade’s work more than a passing thought except when put in the uncomfortable position to have to appraise his work. His work is so sentimental and mindlessly “sweet” that it gives me a metaphorical tooth ache to consider it. What always irritated me about his work and life was the fact that he touted his Christianity and used it as a marketing tool to sell more product. I never considered the artistic impact of the man’s work, just the hypocrisy of hiding behind a Christian mantle to push product. Plus, each time the facts of his very public struggle with sin would get picked up by the press, there was another opportunity for the non-Christian to stumble over the fact that Christians look just like other sinners.

    I was at first amused that someone would take the time to give serious contemplation to Kinkade’s work. But, I have express my kudos for your article. I do not think Kinkade’s collectors have ever given more than a few moments thought to the meaning of the “art.” These are decor items. They look good over the couch. And, since factory-Kinkade actually sold everything from upholstery material, to coffee cups to wallpaper with Kinkade imagery, the artwork might match the couch EXACTLY. That being said, I think your article was quite thought provoking and look forward to the follow-ups.
    Brenda

    • Daniel A. Siedell

      Brenda, Thanks for your comments and support. Indeed, as a Christian who works in the art world, I found Kinkade’s work to be a stumbling block in so many ways. It was hard for me to recommend a collector who owns Kinkade reproductions to pay the same amount of money to acquire a painting that, in comparison, was “dark,” “ugly,” and “distorted.”

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  • brettongarcia

    Of course, this is a silly article; probably deliberately so. For lots of reasons.

    1) Kinkade strongly said he was a Christian;
    2) He even gave all his children the middle name, “Christian.”
    And?
    3) No doubt, his idea of painting a world “before the fall,” was just a random, unconsidered remark. Which no doubt, he would revise, if he was here to reconsider; into say, a “World, a kingdom, after the second Coming,” say. Where the love of God – and his “light” after all – return to this material world.
    4) Indeed, the major motiff in Kinkade is light; which illuminates and comforts, the same as the light of God; and which is a major motiff in Christian art.
    5) If his paintings do not have people in them? That is no more mysterious, than our status as “angels” in “Heaven” after all; “neither male nor famale,” etc… As even beings of light. (And likely? Kincade just wasn’t good at depicting people).
    6) Or indeed if anything, his paintings are rather … monastic. We are in retreat from the “world,” obviously; living in monastic remoteness, far from the bustle of the corrupting “world.”
    While indeed, the monastic life attempted insofar as it was possible, to reverse the Fall, and our alienation from the light; and to anticipate the return of God, light, to the world again.
    7) Finally of course, Kinkade is widely recognized to have little ability artistically, so as to deserve little attention?

    Whatever attention he DOES attract, should try to show a little more Christian charity to the man and his life. And to his Christianity as well.

    • Daniel A. Siedell

      Brettongarcia, Thanks for taking the time to write so much in response. I’ll respond to each of your points.

      1) I never denied he was a Christian. He is no more sinful than I am.
      2) Irrelevant.
      3) I agree with you. that also makes it a problem. Is it okay to toss out such random comments that presuppose some deep theological importance, esp. if it’s intended to get christians to buy your stuff?
      4)Kinkade’s light is mediocre at best, especially in comparison to artists who actually do paint light brilliantly.
      5)You may be right on both accounts. I’m not critical necessarily of the images not having people in them as the implication of what his utopia includes or doesn’t include in it.
      6)I’m all for a monastic retreat…for a time. There are artists that are much better monks than Kinkade!
      7)He has a lot of technical skill, and that is acknowledged, in fact, by many critics. But art is not about technical skill only.

      Did you read my second post on Kinkade? Should I ask you to give me the same charity for putting my silliness out into the world as you wish I would have given Kinkade?

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  • ELIZABETH

    This article would be funny, if it weren’t so sad. It’s amazing how hard Mr. Seidell is working to sound intellectual and deep, when it only comes off as mean-spirited and, frankly, ridiculous and over-blown. In the words of Hamlet, “the lady doth protest too much, methinks.” Mr. Seidell might want to figure out the anger he’s harboring in his own heart, before he continues with more “much ado about nothing.”

    • Daniel A. Siedell

      Elizabeth, I guess you see right through me. Fifteen years as an art history professor and museum curator, author of dozens of books and articles, lecturing all over the country on art and Christianity, and you’ve caught me. I did run the risk of being mean-spirited in my post, which I thought long and hard about and decided to write–being accused of being mean-spirited by a few was worth articulated my thoughts about Kinkade’s work.

      Did you read my second post on Kinkade? Perhaps that might help you.

  • Daniel A. Siedell

    After reading through and responding to over one hundred comments on my first blog post on Thomas Kinkade, I can offer the following observations in summary.

    Most of those who were critical of my approach to Kinkade do not believe that art of any kind (Kinkade’s version or Edvard Munch’s) should be anything but pleasant decoration, a nice but not necessary addition to the comforts of one’s life. Art is an extension of leisure, the equivalent of taking off one’s shoes, loosening one’s tie, and pouring a martini. Nothing more, nothing less. Many of my commentators didn’t like Kinkade’s work, but disliked my analytical focus even more. Investing it (or any work of art) with strong theological or philosophical content was to their mind the manifestation of an academic disease, or, in the accusations of some of my more nuanced ad hominem observers, evidence that I need to “get a life.” In sum, many of my critics resented that I invested such meaning in such harmless and defenseless images. I, however, do not see art as an extension of leisure or commerce, conspicuous consumption or entertainment, a space beyond theology or the real concerns of life. I follow Tolstoy that it is one of life’s necessities, and thus requires theological attention and philosophical scrutiny, because it comes out of a theological and philosophical understanding of life. Furthermore, the alternative is not art that is disgusting and gross, but art that is real, honest, and starts with our fallen sinful condition and works with it, not in denial of it. I am also skeptical that Kinkade’s work is even art, but a masquerade. But what art is will have to be the subject of another post. Yet most of my critics are resentful of anyone, much less an art professional, exploring what art is when they already know what it is–a version of, “I can’t define it but I know it when I see it.” I found it a little discouraging that “art” for most of my critics is what was learned in 5th grade art class. Anything more is “liberal” or “elitist” cant. However, it is my conviction that art, as a cultural practice, needs to be learned with practice, and that includes learning its history and tradition, which is part of the role of the critic. Yet it is obvious to me that anyone who has devoted their life to studying art, is passionate about it and writes about it with conviction, is immediately disqualified as arrogant, angry, and perhaps worse, “liberal.”

    I also noticed that many of my critics disapproved of my theological approach to Kinkade’s paintings, wincing at my constant focus on human frailty, sinfulness, brokenness, etc. Most of my critics not only wanted visual images that didn’t cause them to think too much or feel too much, but a theology that didn’t dwell too much on brokenness, sin, and all that depressing stuff that can really get one down. Certainly, we like our Christian religion full of virtue, optimism, and of the do it yourself variety–Christ, my fixer, my life coach. All this talk about original sin, our hopelessness, and depravity just depresses us. But as I observed in my post, where can grace be present if things are really not so bad? If things aren’t desperate, grace doesn’t have a chance. Great artists, poets, musicians, etc. produce work that acknowledges our brokenness and the world’s injustice and yet generates hope within it, or the possibility of hope within it. I was also criticized for not extending to Kinkade and his work the grace I was writing about–perhaps that is true. And I also sensed in the comments that I was impugned the judgment of those who consumed those images. I thought long and hard about writing this post for precisely those reasons. Yet I felt the subject to be important enough and the occasion (Kinkade’s passing), serious enough to warrant the risk. However, I also got the feeling that “grace” in the minds of many of my critics was something akin to “to each each his own,” “lighten up,” “back off,” etc. But that is not at all what grace is. It is the last hope at the end of our rope; it clings to the promises of God that he will save us, even if everything points against it. And it is also disruptive, radical, uncomfortable. And in art it is that breeze, that whiff of something, or slap in the face that knocks your glasses off and messes up your hair, that has come from beyond the hills, that has invaded the hostility of this world and overwhelmed it. There is a lot of talk about transcendence in the art world by artists and critics. What they mean, really, is grace. And as a critic my goal is to point to it. But it takes some work to look at art, and the consensus among my critics is that art, when you get right down to it, isn’t worth the time.

    Thank you for taking this post seriously enough to comment, to criticize, to rebuke, and to encourage. I appreciate it. Many of your comments helped me to formulate my follow-up post on Kinkade. And in the process of writing both of these essays, I have come to appreciate Kinkade’s work and the challenges he faced in ways that I had not expected.

  • http://dearchristiancounselor.wordpress.com Louise

    Thomas Kincaid used light and circumstance to sell paintings which created an ethereally positive atmosphere. Nope, not very deep, not great art. A superficial depiction of the world as it was or, perhaps, as it may be again one day. There is a longing in all of us for that kind of peace and perfection. That same ache is stroked by romance novels and beach vacations packages. Maybe even by some pornography. It sells. It stirs people. And so does criticizing it.

    • Daniel A. Siedell

      I agree that Kinkade’s work, like my criticism, stirs people, and is meant to stir people. But I hope that Kinkade’s work, my criticism, and porn aren’t that similar.

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  • http://www.turnau.cz Ted Turnau

    Hi Daniel,
    Thanks for this piece. I found a lot of the comments were either ad hominem attacks, or they completely missed the point. Nobody said that Thomas Kincaid meant to promote heresy. Rather, they are works that stem from a deceptive (and possibly self-deceived) kind of imagination, a world where darkness and sin are absent and so there is no need for grace. I think you touched a nerve: too many Christians are too fond of kitsch. They mistake safe and cozy for godly purity. Thanks for your thoughts.

    • Daniel A. Siedell

      Thanks for your support, Ted!

  • calyps

    I love the responses for this. While I don’t subscribe to the christian idea of fallenness…I do believe humans aren’t perfect and can never be perfect (because perfection is a primitive idea that has no reflection in reality). And I do believe art that candy coats it’s subjects for ease of consumption does a disservice to the viewer. And it was fully calculated, as his older work, before he started his media empire, was genuine observational art that sought to capture something real (besides cotton candy clouds, and warm glowing houses). He sought real beauty, not stylized cottages and sugary sweet color, but the truth of the scene in front of him. It’s a shame he went the way he did. Better to be an honest carpenter than a lying rockstar. And that’s what he was, a rockstar with a brush and he died like a rockstar.

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  • thinkingabovemypaygrade

    After readingthe article (and skimming thru the responses) my date…
    I don’t see the case to designate Kinkade’s work as “nihilistic”…just pleasant yet cliche’filled wall art.
    I did see a “plein air” painting Kinkade did of the Chicago water tower…which was much better technically and much fresher..
    ..but as some of you observed, Kinkade choseto mainly do the whole cottage or lighthouse in the woods…on the ocean theme over & over, as it was what the public wanted.
    …..but I’m not an art snob. Am suspecting his cliche’ filled paintings still radiated a security to those who have fought battles in their lives (or were fighting battles in life) and who dreamed of “The Sanctuary”. And I’d leave it at that…

    • Daniel A. Siedell

      I think there is a “soft” or “pleasant” nihilism–a denial of the basic post-fall reality of life. You can deny such reality with a grimace or with a sweet smile. Many modern artists chose the former, Kinkade the latter.

      There was one reader of my post who said she was in rehab and there were Kinkades in the facility and she couldn’t look at them….

  • http://musingandmotion.wordpress.com JSN

    Nice analysis, though I think the comparison with Munch at the beginning is so counter-intuitive that it might put barriers in the minds of some to your main argument.
    Are you familiar with the music of the Avett Bros? The lyrics to their song “Heart Full of Doubt/Road Full of Promise” resonates in my mind with your critique of Kinkade. I’m working on a blog post right now connecting the two.
    Also, I heard an interview on Mars Hill Audio years ago in which an art critic makes the exact same argument presented here. Don’t recall the name.

    • Daniel A. Siedell

      I love the Avett Brothers. I probably heard that Mars Hill Audio interview years ago. Could have been Greg Wolfe, editor of Image.

  • Dan

    Excellent article with profound technical and theological insights. It has helped inform my own suspicions concerning the ‘ideological aesthetic’ that has been largely adopted by pop Christian culture in the West. It has also helped me to seriously examine the consequences of habitully retreating into a romantic “if only” world. Certainly God’s ultimate revelation in Christ (as seen in Holbein) is the necessary antithesis of all that we think of as beautiful and serene (as seen in Kinkade). Well done!

  • Ben

    So, good art has to be depressing and feel darker than the author of t his article finds Kinkade’s stuff does. Got it.

  • J

    I could never explain why I felt an uneasiness when I looked at Kinkades paintings. It was never an emotional response comparable to looking at controversial or celebrated art, but instead an annoyed feeling of witnessing a painter who was shamelessly banking on the Christian audience. Kinkade was the Nicholas Sparks of his genre. He was a human factory, producing piece after piece that always evoked the same cheap, shallow “feelings” from his audience. And they still eat it up. I watched you speak at Jubilee and couldn’t wait to read your complete thoughts on this artist. I must say, this article put my scattered thoughts on the subject into perfect alignment. Nothing short of genius.

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