Monday, April 03, 2006

Kinkade's Corruption?

If you're anything like me, then you're probably not a huge fan of Thomas Kinkade artwork. Perhaps you smell "big business" or "commericialized" or "superficial" nearly every time you see one. If not though, you ought to consider the following two articles I came across recently (thanks to Amy Welborn's blog post).

The first is from 2004, a CBS News 60 Minutes story describing Kinkade's success. Some of the statements seriously scare me, but first, let's consider the nice sounding side of the artist in the story:
"Art is forever. It goes front and center on your wall, where everyday the rest of your life you see that image. And it is shaping your children, it's shaping your life," says Kinkade.

"What I paint touches on foundational life values. Home, family, peacefulness. And one of the messages I try to constantly get across is slow it down and enjoy every moment."
Okay, not too bad so far. But let's look a little deeper now:
"There's over 40 walls in the average American home, and Tom says our job is to figure out how to populate every single wall in every single home and every single business throughout the world with his paintings," says Fleming [CEO of Kinkade's company].

"Thomas Kinkade is a multi-dimensional lifestyle brand, similar to Martha Stewart or Ralph Lauren," says Kinkade.

"You can put a Thomas Kinkade couch beneath your Thomas Kinkade painting. Next to the Thomas Kinkade couch goes the Thomas Kinkade end table. On top of that goes your collection of Thomas Kinkade books, Thomas Kinkade collectibles, Thomas Kinkade throw rugs. You can snuggle your Thomas Kinkade teddy bear."

And, he adds, "You can put all of that inside your new Thomas Kinkade home in the Thomas Kinkade subdivision."

More than 100 homes, all modeled on his cutesy, cozy cottages, have been built in Vallejo, Calif., outside San Francisco.

"This is ad nauseam, I know, to some people. But hear me out. My goodness. Walt Disney wasn't satisfied just making a movie. He said, 'I wanna invite people to step into that world,' and he built Disneyland," says Kinkade. "We view my work and my cultural identity, in a way, as heir to the Walt Disney kind of tradition."
Maybe it's just me, but this sounds insane! Ad nauseam indeed! Personally, it also seems as though the almighty dollar has gotten the best of this possibly once genuine artist (though I already had a feeling that was the case with his artwork alone as evidence). If you're not troubled yet though, let's move on to exhibit B, the second article.

This one comes the Dallas Morning News, March 17, 2006: "Thomas Kinkade accused of bad business dealings, behavior." The details are fascinating:
Thomas Kinkade is famous for his luminous landscapes and street scenes, those dreamy, deliberately inspirational images he says have brought "God's light" into people's lives, even as they have made him one of America's most collected artists. A Christian who calls himself the "Painter of Light," Mr. Kinkade says God has guided his brush – and his life – for the last 20 years.

But some former Kinkade employees, gallery operators and others contend that the Painter of Light has a decidedly dark side. In litigation and interviews with the Los Angeles Times, some former gallery owners depict Mr. Kinkade, 48, as a ruthless businessman who drove them to financial ruin at the same time he was fattening his business associates' bank accounts and feathering his nest with tens of millions of dollars.

Mr. Kinkade – whose solely owned Thomas Kinkade Co. is based in Morgan Hill, Calif. – denies these allegations. Last month, however, a three-member panel of the American Arbitration Association ordered his company to pay $860,000 for defrauding the former owners of two failed Virginia galleries. That decision marks the first major legal setback for Mr. Kinkade, who won three previous arbitration claims. Five more are pending. Former gallery owners, ex-employees and others also say Mr. Kinkade's personal behavior belies his wholesome image.

Mr. Kinkade declined the Times' request for an interview but responded to written questions. He called the accounts of crude personal behavior "ridiculous" and "crazy allegations."

As he built his brand, Mr. Kinkade came to embody its underlying themes of faith, family and life's blessings. He speaks lovingly of his family – illustrating a lighter side of the man his supporters say is genial and genuine, a "regular guy" with small-town roots. He also has raised millions for charities.
So what are some of the other accusations?
In an interview, Terry Sheppard, a former vice president for Mr. Kinkade's company, recounted a trip to Orange County in the late 1990s for the artist's appearance on the "Hour of Power" television show. On the eve of the broadcast, Mr. Sheppard said, he and Mr. Kinkade returned to the Disneyland Hotel after a night of heavy drinking. As they walked to their rooms, according to Mr. Sheppard and another person who was there, Mr. Kinkade veered toward a nearby figure of a Disney character and decided to "mark his territory."

In a deposition, the artist alluded to his practice of urinating outdoors, saying he "grew up in the country" where it was common.

Mr. Kinkade's memory was fuzzy when he was asked during the arbitration proceedings about a signing party in Indiana in August 2002. By various accounts, most of the partyers overindulged, including Mr. Kinkade and Mr. Cote. At one point, according to testimony and interviews with Mr. Cote and three others who were there, Mr. Kinkade polled the men in the room about their preferences in women's anatomies.

During that discussion, according to arbitration records, Mr. Kinkade groped one of the women at the party. Others at the party said they also saw the alleged groping.

Mr. Kinkade testified in a deposition that excessive drinking and "some normal rowdy talk" had taken place, but he denied touching the woman. "But you've got to remember," he said, "I'm the idol to these women who are there." In the recent arbitration case, he also testified that he had never claimed to be perfect.
Everything doesn't seem to be settled yet, but Kinkade is still looking much less pretty than usual. In the end, I feel sorry for the man, but I also can't deny a bit of satisfaction, since I never was that impressed with his artwork in the first place. In light of that thought, however, the big question I'm left with is this: where does Kinkade's corruption most lie? Which is the more heinous crime of Kinkade's, the actions mentioned above or the millions of prints of awful commercialized artwork that he's left us with in its various forms? Personally, I'm leaning towards the latter.

[Note to Steve: This is not to say I didn't enjoy the giant Thomas Kinkade puzzle we put together that one summer. That was actually a lot of fun.]


At 4/04/2006 10:04:00 AM, Blogger Steve said...

Well, as long as there are 35-40 year old Christian stay-at-home soccer moms to exploit, why not...

At 4/04/2006 11:38:00 AM, Blogger Chris said...

Well, sadly, I think many Christians nowadays, contrary to the nature of Christianity (and simply good sensibilities), are just as caught up as anybody in our consumeristic and individualistic culture (which is often a false individualism that is really largely dependent upon the commercial market, even if it's a "Christian" market). They have little or no sense of the past, not to mention other cultures, and thus have little awareness of the idea that there might be other good art out there, even better art than Thomas Kinkade's work.

At 4/04/2006 03:09:00 PM, Blogger Steve said...

yeah don't get me started on christian commercialism

At 4/05/2006 11:29:00 AM, Blogger Brad said...

whatever steve! you dont' have any thoughts about christian commercialism! (did that get you started?)

What would Jesus buy?

At 4/05/2006 11:16:00 PM, Blogger Steve said...


At 4/13/2006 01:42:00 AM, Blogger The Village Idiot said...

you have heard about Celebration, Florida, right? Its a town that Disney built for families who want to live in the wholesome, healthy atmosphere of a Disney movie. There are no commercial chains allowed in town... no McDonalds, no Wal-Mart, etc. Just lots of cute little mom and pop shops that are all actually run by Disney. There are parks, lakes, subdivisions, a downtown, schools, all you could need to live in your own little haven.

Why cover your walls with a lifestyle when you could live it, as fake or fantastical and absolutely unnerving as Celebration?

At 4/15/2006 12:41:00 AM, Blogger Chris said...

Yes, I'm aware of Disney's 'Celebration,' and one word comes to mind: disturbing.


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