Written by Todd Mangum
Monday, 25 June 2012 00:00
At the end of the spring semester when final projects, final exams, and end-of-year budgeting all come due, I sometimes fall behind in keeping up with the news. So I just found out last week that artist Thomas Kinkade died Easter weekend — from an apparent overdose of valium (drunk down with alcohol). He was 54.
Surprised? Yeah — so was I. Thomas Kinkade, who sometimes claimed to be “America’s most-collected living artist,” was the guy who painted the idyllic nature scenes, which sometimes appear as desktop computer screen wall paper, with luminescent glows permeating serenely throughout the picture. One of every twenty American homes is said to have a Thomas Kinkade painting, so Wikipedia says.
I’ve always thought his art to be populist and designed to be commonly appealing — yeah, art critics are always going to sniff at such lowbrow stuff, but so what? I still sometimes enjoy a good Southern Gospel quartet or even a country music station, even though all my music teachers in college scoffed at such and claimed a classically trained musician would eventually, inevitably “outgrow” it; I never did. . . .
But I didn’t think his artwork was any more controversial than that. Turns out that there is a stream of Christian art critics who find Kinkade art not just trite, but dangerous. Dangerous?! Yes, you read that right.
Here’s a line from the Kinkade obituary written by Daniel Seidell: “Thomas Kinkade . . . produced paintings that are far more terrifying than Munch’s [painting of The Scream, 1893] or Holbein’s [painting of The Body of the Dead Christ in the Tomb, 1522], giving us a world deprived not only of Easter Sunday, but Holy Saturday, Good Friday, and Christ himself.” (Click here for the whole column.)
The objection to Kinkade’s pleasant paradisiacal visions put on canvas is that they offer a world 1) falsely depicted as unfallen; and 2) without need of redemption. In short, like pornography’s offer of the pleasures of sex without the encumbrances of love and relationship, Kinkade’s art is accused of offering a world free of distortion and unpleasantness without the inconvenience of needing to go through Christ, or Christ’s cross, to get it.
The fear is that this idyllic vision will play and does play all too well and quickly to the already narcissistic and hedonistic sensibilities of affluent American consumers. All the more sinister is Kinkade’s art thought to be given the tortured life, alleged unscrupulous business practices, and then in a final, ironic coup de gras, the unsavory way into the afterlife taken by Thomas Kinkade, the man.
I have to say that my first reaction when I read this line of criticism was that it was going too deep and being too critical with something that never claimed or aspired to be anything other than superficially pleasing. “Saccharine sweet” is not a compliment, but the occasional Diet Coke will not kill you either.
But the more I think about it — and the more I think about even my own response, my own soul’s visceral reactions to Thomas Kinkade’s paintings — the more I think there may be a valid point of concern here. How about you? What do you think?
Todd Mangum is the Academic Dean and Professor of Theology at Biblical. He is ordained by the Southern Baptist Convention. Todd is the author of The Dispensational-Covenantal Rift, and of several articles seeking to bridge divides among Bible-believing Christians. He is married to Linda and they have three sons. See also http://www.biblical.edu/index.php/todd-mangum.