Cottage By the Sea
I’ve never been a fan of Thomas Kinkade’s work. His idealistic fantasy cottages please many–my niece has them all over her house–but they’ve always left me feeling cold, and I think it’s because they are so idealistic as to be completely unattainable except in imagination. Kinkade’s heavily-marketed themes of light and snug sentimentalism create a longing for something that never was.
Fantasy is all well-and-good, but the “painter of light’s” saccharine little cottages on exclusive little coves in perfect little worlds are tantalizing teases that have less relationship to reality than an episode of Star Trek. I’m a bit of a loner, but even I think it’s weird that Kinkade’s ideal worlds contain no human beings. It is as though he is saying that ideals cannot co-exist with humanity, and may not even be worth striving for, once people enter the picture and muck it all up.
Kinkade’s faux-cozy worlds gleam warmth on the surface, but beneath there is an absence of complexity that almost seems like a rejection of created creatures, which is a rejection of the world. And all of that seems bleak, rather than comforting, to me.
The artist was arrested yesterday on suspicion of driving while intoxicated. That is a stupid, dangerous thing to do, but sometimes people who have had a drink believe they’re in better shape than they really are, only to learn differently once they get behind a wheel. But I couldn’t help wondering, when I read of his arrest, whether Kinkade is not finding all of that fake light just a little too sterile and unconsoling, after all.
His arrest has inspired Joe Carter to blow the dust off of last year’s excellent look at Kinkade’s lesser-known (and surprisingly good) paintings, and while I could have sworn that I’d linked to the piece last year, it seems I did not. So here is your chance. Carter, too, notes the absence of people in Kinkade’s most recent work:
‘Kinkade justifies the absence of people in his picturesque scenarios because he doesn’t want to exclude any viewers from being able to step into the fantasy. “When you paint people, you limit people,” Kinkade once explained, offering the example of a hypothetical Vietnamese-American family. “Why would they want to look at a picture of a dozen white people sitting around a Thanksgiving table?”
What the artist fails to understand is that Vietnamese-Americans (as well as African-, Mexican-, Chinese-, and other hyphenated Americans) probably do not share the Anglo-American cottage fantasy. And his cottage scenes are precisely that: fantasies. Adults hang paintings of Kinkade’s paintings of cottages in their living room for the same reason that little girls put posters of unicorns and rainbows on their bedroom walls. It is a pseudo-referential nostalgia, a longing for what does not exist in reality but exists in the fantasy realm of possibility.
If Carter is cruel, it is only to be kind. I suspect however, that Kinkade’s high-minded concerns about “inclusion” may well rest more on a broad marketing strategy than on a sensitivity to the sensibilities of other cultures. And perhaps that is why, ultimately, his work feels so empty and cold; it stopped being about capturing moments in favor of capturing millions. And millions are cold comfort on a lonely night, even if you live in Carmel-by-the-Sea.