Tuesday, November 20, 2007

I love this painting.

It is called "Doubting Thomas," and was painted by a young artist named Ben Steele. I found it on Anneke Majors' latest post on AMV. It captures my attitude toward Thomas Kinkade perfectly. I used to be ambivalent about Thomas Kinkade. He was just something that I would walk past in the mall. He was the Sunglass Hut of the trailer park art world---Obnoxious, overpriced, and of poor quality, but easily ignored. But then this painting of the Twin Towers changed my mind.

Now I really dislike him. What is this flagpole actually affixed to, anyway? A bouy? And thanks for reminding us that the New York Skyline has an empty space now, because that wasn't obvious or repeated ad nauseum for several years after 9/11. To be fair, Kinkade is hardly the only one, but he's a representative of that element of our society that plays off of tragedy and loss to sell it's low-brow kitsch. And in the process of profiteering from tragedy, it encourages pride rather than patriotism---a clannish, self-righteous, priestly sort of pride.

But his art itself, regardless of his profiteering, reminds me also of Greg Olsen. I dislike Olsen's painting a fair bit less than Kinkade's---perhaps because Olsen seems, for some reason, to be more sincere. His art is kitschy and artificial, and he uses religious channels to market it (which annoys me, but is probably a subject for another post), but at least he doesn't have an army of minions who churn it out to give it the false appearance of hand-painted-ness, and another army of minions who market it in those mall kiosks. And at least he hasn't given himself such a presumptuous moniker as the self-dubbed "painter of light."

But back to Steele's visual indictment of Kinkade. I love the way the figure in the painting is extending his finger, like the ancient apostle. But instead of a confirmation of faith, this one is a confirmation that his doubts are justified. I also love the way the other guy is pulling his hand away, as if to say, "just let it go." I'm not sure if these guys are supposed to be renaissance masters or apostles, but the aura of authority and ancient wisdom is there either way. I also love the way the background is drab and dour, but more complex and interesting than the storybook land of artificial light inside the frame. Your eye goes not to the horrifically glowing cottage, but to the triumvirate of ancient heads. Very cool.


apyknowzitall said...

It was funny, when I was reading your post and got to the "this painting of the Twin Towers changed my mind..." I thought,"Oh great he's going to get all mushy about Kinkade."

HA!!! Steeles painting is pretty crafty I'm glad you found it. Your post captured my thoughts exactly, in particular the Olsen/Kinkade parallels.

The Shark said...

So your post brought an interesting question to mind: how do we distinguish/differentiate between pride and patriotism?

Obviously they are not one and the same, and I think I have a grasp on the feeling between the two, but I am having a hard time defining that difference in words.

Bjorn said...

I agree.

For you, a Thomas Kinkade haiku:

The "Painter of Light"
Paints hotel art without thought.
For sale by the Gap

JKC said...

Bjorn, that is fantastic.

Shark, for me, the difference between pride and patriotism is that pride tells us that America is great because it is good. Patriotism tells us that because America is great, America has the duty to also be good.

I also think that pride is a desire to justify our government's actions, while patriotism is loyalty to principles rather than to government.

There's probably a lot more that could be said about this, more intelligently than I am saying it, too. Maybe we could get Cabeza to do a post on the priestly vs. prophetic modes of political discourse. I think that gets at the same idea.

Katherine said...

That painting is fantastic.

Greg Olsen does have a bit more sincerity on his side, I suppose, but the level of kitschy sentimentality he uses to sell his work is incredible. And I still can't get over the fact that a Greg Olsen print hangs prominently over the fireplace in the front room of the London Centre--that always seemed a hilarious incongruity to me.

JKC said...

Really? There's a Olsen painting hanging in the London Centre? Which one? I don't remember that. Cabeza, was it there when we were there?

Cabeza said...

I don't remember there being any Greg Olsen print in the London Centre when we were there. Maybe Tina is getting more sentimental?

I understand what you're saying about Olsen, but I feel like cutting him some slack--I mean, artists have to eat, and it's hard to name good art that we all know and recognize without also finding some kind of sponsor or commission. So the commercialism aspect... meh. I can see disliking sentimentalist commercialism, though. But he's not as bad as Kinkade.

On a similar vein, I saw an awesome painting yesterday as I was walking past a framing store. It was titled "Grand Old Boys" and it depicted a poker game involving Abraham Lincoln, Gerald Ford, Theodore Roosevelt, Dwight Eisenhower, George W. Bush, George H.W. Bush, Ronald Reagan, and Richard Nixon. The painting was really well done because it wasn't your typical, static "dogs playing poker" composition. The subjects all had personality and seemed to be captured in a snapshot, not some posed session. TR is cracking a joke and laughing heartily, Nixon is smiling and laughing, but looks like he didn't quite get it. Eisenhower is standing upright and classy-looking, even though he's wearing casual clothes. Reagan looks the most at ease and at home, next to Bush I. W is hovering nearby, looking like he wants to fit in but can't quite pull it off. I did a double-take as I walked past the store window where I saw it and I stopped and had a woman behind me nearly run me down. It was pretty cool.

Try and make something like that, "Painter of Light."

apyknowzitall said...

Can you find a copy of it online? I'd like to see that.

Katherine said...

Amanda and I think it was this one. We always joked about sneaking down in the middle of the night to switch it with one of the other paintings in the Centre.

Amanda said...

I admit, I'm a little bothered by someone taking this particular Caravaggio piece and turning it into some kind of parody. Especially since in the real painting Thomas' finger is touching the wound in Jesus' side, so the person who made this parody replaced the Christ with a Kinkade painting. Still, it's definitely clever. I agree with everything that has been said about Kinkade, and I too was always bothered by the Greg Olsen print above the fireplace in the London Centre.

Are any of you familiar with Kinkade's impressionist phase? I was wandering through a Kinkade store in Cape May, NJ last summer, while my aunt and uncle dropped about $1000.00 on a picture of Disneyland, and I found a couple prints I quite enjoyed. Apparently Kinkade travelled around Europe for a while painting impressionistic city and natural landscapes. I think my favorite is a small print called "Bloomsbury Cafe." Anyway, it's a lovely poser (haha, I mean poster), but I'm not about to pay $150.00 for a print.

JKC said...

Amanda, I think the fact that the sacred body of the Savior is replaced with a Kinkade painting represents the reduction and impotence of the sentimentalist mode. It takes what is sacred and reduces it to a mass-produced nullity and a glowing nicety. The power and passion (passion, not emotion) is gone.

The apostle is doubting. Except here his doubt is heroic, not childish. He finds confirmation, not rebuke.

I like how the topsy-turvy world of the painting tracks and parodies the topsy-turvy world of sentimentalist expressions of that which is sacred. And I like how the one thing that doesn't change, the doubting apostle, brings it back to reality.

At least that's the way I'm free to read it, whether it's intended or not.

I have read a little about Kinkade's impressionist period, just on Wikipedia, though I've never seen any of his paintings. I understand that he really is a technically proficient painter, so it doesn't surprise me. I think he also painted movie sets for a while.

JKC said...

Thanks also, Amanda, for pointing out that this is taken from a Carvaggio. it didn't even cross my mind, but when I looked it up I remembered that I think I have seen that painting before.

For what it's worth, I also like how Steele has changed St. Thomas' expression from one of joyful disbelief ("too good to be true"), to critical scrutiny.

Anonymous said...

Sounds to me that someone is jealous Kinkade can actually sell his paintings.