(Check out Lauren Wissot’s movie review of Art for Everybody. The film is currently making the rounds on the film festival circuit.Seen it? Join the conversation with HtN on our Letterboxd Page.)
When one hears the words “the most successful artist of his time” the name Thomas Kinkade likely won’t spring to mind (at least not for those reading these words). But then, what is your definition of success? Like art itself it’s in the eye of the beholder; and for Kinkade’s (working-class white) superfans and true-believing business partners – upon which the QVC-ubiquitous painter’s multimillion-dollar empire was built in the 90s – success meant idyllic tableaus for the nostalgic masses. Which inevitably put Kinkade at odds with an elite establishment built on secret knowledge and scarcity, on the belief that art should only be interpreted and owned by the (rich white) few. In other words, one individual’s precious keepsake is another’s eye-rolling mall kitsch.
Indeed, for a painter whose reputation was often that of a huckster joke (when the cynical tastemakers deigned to acknowledge him, of course) brought down by the predictable twins of scandal and addiction, Kinkade lived a life remarkably free of hypocrisy. While he may have been an artist-hustler with demons (Warhol anyone?), he actually firmly believed in the “snake oil” he was selling. As Kinkade wondered to the New Yorker writer Susan Orlean, who profiled him back in 2001 (in a piece likewise titled “Art for Everybody”), why did art always have to challenge? Why couldn’t it “just make people happy”? Sadly, it was this optimistic obsession with creating “art for everybody” that arguably led to the “Painter of Light’s” (trademarked, naturally) dark and untimely demise.
– Lauren Wissot