I’m making some observations about sentimentality in a couple of upcoming reviews, and to enhance those articles I’ve been reading and re-reading some other essays on the subject.
I revisited one of my favorites tonight, a piece by Gregory Wolfe, publisher of Image, on the popular paintings of Thomas Kinkade. And again I was impressed. Here are a couple of excerpts:
…what scares me about Thomas Kinkade is not so much the treacly emotion he seeks to evoke or his inveterate prettifying of nature, but the political subtext underlying his iconography. The only folk who could ever have inhabited his cottages and lighthouses are prosperous white people. Nearly all of his paintings are of a world circa 1800-1914, with perhaps a small percentage depicting a world between 1914 and 1960. He likes to say that he is a painter of “memories and traditions,” but he is highly selective in what he chooses to remember, and that choice bears an unnerving resemblance to a world that is comfortingly pre-modern and Anglo-Saxon in composition.
The essence of Kinkade’s sentimentality is the packaging of nostalgia. It’s an oxymoronic idea, but it has become a major part of our cultural life, as Florence King has noted: “True nostalgia is an ephemeral composition of disjointed memories…but American-style nostalgia is about as ephemeral as copyrighted déjà vu.” Kinkade’s patriotism and his attacks on the horrors of artistic modernism are standard-issue conservative notions. When it comes to theology, however, he is a little more original. The majority of his expressions of faith are fairly conventional, solidly within the evangelical mold, but his theological defense of the world depicted in his paintings is that “I like to portray a world without the Fall.” I have yet to encounter any evidence that Kinkade cites scriptural or other warrant for this modus operandi. The Bible, as a narrative, seems fairly explicit about there being a Before and an After. Moreover, Christ’s message was not to pretend the world isn’t fallen but to take up our crosses and follow him through suffering and sacrifice. To create a body of work illustrating a world without the Fall is, for a Christian, to render Christ superfluous.