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Thomas Kinkade: The People's Artist?
by Kathleen Lang

You may not be familiar with the name, but go to the official Thomas Kinkade web site at and you will immediately recognize his work, because it seems to be everywhere: paintings, plates, calendars, puzzles, and even screen savers.

Thomas Kinkade, "Painter of Light" is a busy man. The Kinkade business empire is part of the Media Arts Group which "manufactures" Thomas Kinkade products. Media Arts Group is a publicly traded company under the stock symbol MDA. In 1999, the company had sales of $126.3 million and profits of $29.2 million. Wow, that's a lot of art! You can purchase Thomas Kinkade products on line, or through one of 287 Thomas Kinkade branded retail sites and Signature Galleries.

"Evening Glow," 1999, is a typical example of his work. Kinkade, who is promoted as a "painter of light," depicts a serenely peaceful setting through this small cottage nestled in the woods with soft evening twilight in the background. You can almost hear the stream lapping against its banks and smell the aroma of freshly baked bread coming from the cottage.

According to the biography on his web site, Thomas Kinkade is one of America's most collected artists. This fact is not surprising after you view several samples of his work. Unlike the angst-ridden paintings created by many modern artists that only alienate and confuse the average observer, Kinkade's world is far different. The viewer is gently guided into this cozy scene and its effect provides the perfect antidote to the stresses of modern life. Attractive, yes. Comforting, definitely. But is it real ART?

Kinkade's work is real art if you believe that the purpose of any work of art is to make an emotional connection between the artist and the viewer. And this goal seems to have been overwhelmingly accomplished by Kinkade, according to his many admirers. Some owners of his paintings claim to lose themselves in peaceful reflection as they gaze at the scenes depicted in his works. Try achieving this same effect with a typical abstract painting that relies on thrashing brush strokes with violent colors...hardly a soothing experience after a hard day at the office. Instead, Kinkade's paintings provide the ideal escapism that so many people seek. No wonder he is so popular!

However, art can also sustain the viewer's interest longer through the artist's ability to challenge us. To challenge our beliefs and introduce the observer to an entirely new perspective that only the artist can provide. In this sense, Kinkade's art, although soothing, fails to challenge this viewer to discover anything new and mysterious in his work.

So why is Kinkade's art so popular? Perhaps it is because he offers a slice of a peaceful life that so many people crave and are unable to create for themselves. In addition, he has made his art very accessible to his audience. There are many sites available on the Internet to obtain his work and he has established many galleries, not in the typical downtown locations next to well-established galleries, but within the more casual shopping malls of suburbia.

The average person may be too intimidated to enter a typical gallery where one expects to be greeted with an icy "hello" from an arrogant employee. With that sort of welcome, you might feel as if you have become one of the Clampetts as you walk through the door! Kinkade's galleries seem to understand this experience. The galleries are as accessible as the idealistic scenes that the artist attempts to convey.

Is Thomas Kinkade's work real ART? Or, is it merely a vehicle to produce high production, sentimental art that is as real as the art found on a greeting card? I don't know. Viewing and experiencing art is a very individual and private experience. Go look at Kinkade's art at your local Kinkade retail outlet and judge for yourself.

But please don't neglect the other galleries in your city. Feel free to stride into your local gallery, take a look around, and say "howdy" to the first gallery employee you see.

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