daphnep: (ART)
([personal profile] daphnep Apr. 8th, 2012 12:34 pm)
Over breakfast, Dan asked "do you think Thomas Kinkade's work will ever be in a real museum?"

"I hope so," I replied. "In fact, I'd like to curate that show, myself."

I told him what angle I'd like to take, and what context, and we mulled over speculative titles. I can already see the street-side banners:

Happy Little Trees: Duchamp to Kinkade, Consumerism and the Commodification of Fine Art in the 20th Century.
Marcel Duchamp, Andy Warhol, Bob Ross, Thomas Kinkade






I think it's genius.
The key component of art, to me (and I mean art that makes a mark in history) is that it tells us something essential about the time and place in which it was made. And I think Kinkade's work makes two valuable points about our era: the shopping mall consumer culture of mass manufacturing, and America's current deep need for fantasy and nostalgia for idyllic times and places that never existed. It's not a flattering portrayal, perhaps, but it's completely relevant.

I'd also like to work into this lineup some aspect of the spiritual/devotional purpose of his art. Art has long served that purpose, commonly and throughout cultures. We no longer find the same comfort in gazing into the eyes of the Blessed Mary Mother of God, but clearly glowing cottages with picket-fenced gardens somehow, for many, serve the same purpose, today.

I just can't figure out who Kinkade's closest (20th C) predecessor would be for devotional painting of this type--I need another artist or two on the contemporary spiritual side to add to my exhibition, to make this link.
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From: [identity profile] kylecassidy.livejournal.com


warhol is the obvious choice, but i think it's kind of an insult to warhol who was able to successfully market things that his assistants made but he didn't have the sinister mythology, and he never peed on a winne the pooh statue in a hotel lobby....

From: [identity profile] daphnep.livejournal.com


Ha ha!
Good point, but Warhol has plenty of bad behavior in his biography. In fact, that might be a possible subset of the exhibition: behind-the-scenes shenanigans of the artistes.

From: [identity profile] low-delta.livejournal.com


I like it, but... Ross was known not for his paintings, but his teaching and his attitude. Ross's story is about the commercialization of painting, if anything.

I would say Norman Rockwell. Rockwell and Kinkade both play on nostalgia. But there's an interesting counterpoint between Kinkade and Norman Rockwell. Rockwell had impeccable technique, and tugged at your emotions with believable scenes drawn from idealized lives of families. Kinkade... didn't.

find the same comfort in ... clearly glowing cottages with picket-fenced gardens

Speak for yourself! ;-)

From: [identity profile] daphnep.livejournal.com


I think we need Ross to get to Kincade.

For me it's not a straight line, from Warhol to Kincade, without the "happy little trees" and the idea of "anyone can make that, if they hold their brush just right."

And I won't speak for myself--I was thinking, rather, of this article:
http://www.ocweekly.com/2001-04-12/features/aaaiiiiiiiiieeeeeeee/


I asked myself, after writing this post, "What do I think, personally, of the paintings?" I looked long and hard at the little church picture I posted. I decided they're a little skeevy, to me. It's like a kid's book illustration, but without the story to go along with it, and geared for adults, which makes it unsettling...like an adult sitting on Santa's lap. In spite of my fascination, I take no comfort there.




From: [identity profile] low-delta.livejournal.com


That's a perceptive take. I can't get past its skeeviness simply because people buy this crap? but that's the reason why they do, of course.

So you see a line between these artists? The "anyone can make art" ethos. How does this fit in with the commercialization and commodification of art?


From: [identity profile] daphnep.livejournal.com


All of them (to my reading) set out to subvert the conventional art market. The conversation goes like this:

Duchamp: Anything can be art, art depends on context (the urinal and other "ready mades")

Warhol: Anything can be art, and art can be mass manufactured, and mass-manufactured art can be re-manufactured to make more art, and the whole jumble stands alone even outside of the artist's making (soup cans, silkscreens, Brillo boxes in museums today from production provenances after Warhol's death)

Bob Ross: Anyone can make art, and painting is all a trick of technique (if you just hold your brush right)

Kincade: If I hold my brush right (Ross), and then re-manufacture it(Warhol), and set factories to work reproducing it, Brillo-box style, and then reintroduce it in the gallery (Duchamp style) the definition of "art" changes once again.

From: [identity profile] low-delta.livejournal.com


Hm. Subversion. Artists who brought art to the masses in a different way? Kinkade capitalized on mass marketing strategies more than probably any other artist had. He used channels like television sales networks. He had franchisees. He licensed his work extensively. And still presented himself as a fine artist.

You said it was not a straight line, but I'm not sure there's a line at all, between Warhol and Kinkade. Art has been mass-produced for centuries. One of Warhol's twists was that mass-production processes were not only the subjects of some of his art, but were used in creating it.

I can see the connection between him and Ross. According to Wikipedia, Kinkade got his start after doing a book called, The Artist's Guide to Sketching.

I still like the concept, I'm just not sure you can make it that linear.


From: [identity profile] daphnep.livejournal.com


I think I can make it, but I need to work in my "exhibition" a little more--both content, and commentary. ;)

From: [identity profile] ernunnos.livejournal.com


I would say Rockwell was more sentimental than nostalgic. When he was working, that was current. Malt shops existed. Small towns like that existed. Kids really did play baseball in vacant lots. Hell, quite a few of those paintings could have come from my childhood. Now it's nostalgic, of course, but originally it was just... rose tinted. The painted equivalent of Instagram pictures taken today. The source material is real, it's just got that sentimental glow.

From: [identity profile] malkhos.livejournal.com


The antidote to any Rockwell picture is to ask, "So which of the characters belong to the Klan?"

From: [identity profile] ernunnos.livejournal.com


Considering that most of his subjects were New Englanders... very few. In fact, it's likely that most of his models had ancestors who fought and lost life and limb to free the slaves.

From: [identity profile] daphnep.livejournal.com


Oh! Interesting side note--a few of his models are still around, and at least a couple work at his museum in West Stockbridge. I've been there a few times, over the years, and on our most recent visit we met a docent who had modeled for a painting. (and fwiw, to make it relevant to this thread, he's black).
Edited Date: 2012-04-08 10:34 pm (UTC)

From: [identity profile] malkhos.livejournal.com


There were plenty of Klansmen in New England. Worcester, Mass. was a notorious Klan Center in the 1920s. In any case, with his constant recycling of Tom Sawyer imagery, I always imagined Rockwell's fantasy world was Mid-Western, where the Klan was even more powerful than in the South. Perhaps you're retrojecting the Klan of the 1950s back in time, but it was an entirely different entity in the 1920s.

From: [identity profile] daphnep.livejournal.com


I'm confused about your point. Rockwell's main body of work was the 1940's-60's, and furthermore he was a huge advocate of Civil Rights. What are you saying?

From: [identity profile] malkhos.livejournal.com


He's painting later, but in my view is is invoking the a fantasy rural culture of a generation earlier. Although Rockwell did, as you say, he supported civil rights, the world he is idealizing did not. It may be that Rockwell's sanitized version of that past helps people to believe that racial discrimination was a problem of the 1950s or of the South.

I grew up in a suburb, where my grandfather moved there in 1919 it had been a small town, a vacation community for middle class families form St. Louis. When I was the same age my son is now, I happened to be riding in my grandfather's car with him through the main-street just at dusk. He saw a black man walking down the street: "When I came here you wouldn't have seen a spook like that here after sundown." "Why not?" I asked. "The cops would've thrown him in jail, beat him up so he knew what was good for him, and put him on the first train back to the city the next morning."

And he wasn't an especially virulent racist. That's is just how people thought then. I hold Rockwell complicit because, he completely glossed over, painting an all white world devoid of blacks, just as Dostoevsky's world was devoid of Jews. He was a commercial artist. What else could he have done? His art did not reflect any different attitude until the civil rights movement created a market for change. I'm not so much upset with him, as with conditions as they existed then (and as they persist to a remarkable degree).

If I were able to paint, I think I might take his grandfather presiding over Thanksgiving, his country doctor, his cop at the malt ship, etc, and use them as figures in a crowd at a lynching.

From: [identity profile] daphnep.livejournal.com


Hmm. I can only suspect that you are not as familiar with Rockwell's work as you think you are. Racism and the issues surrounding it were nothing he shirked from, and even though it was commercial by original nature, his work also takes turn frankly addressing social issues. It's actually a fascinating commentary, particularly given his time. I'd say to you "Complicit, compared to who, among his peers?"

I'm referring not just to the painting linked above ("The Problem we all Live With") and "The Golden Rule", and the one I loved as a child, "Moving In". I'd say even more important are the many times he does paint non-white figures in his paintings, not as the central focus but as "incidental characters", porters, waiters, army men, workers, and others, I'd argue he was very conscious of the racial and class divides he was illustrating, and deliberate in his confrontation of that material.

From: [identity profile] malkhos.livejournal.com


Look at the date of his civil rights pictures--well after the start of the civil rights movement. These pictures make it clear that he saw racism as an evil, while at the same time he was content to depict the all white fantasy world demanded by publishers during the 1920s, 1930s, 1940s, and early 1940s.
Here are two further points of comparison. The science fiction writer Robert Heinlein worked under the same constraints yet he rebelled against them to the extent he could--usually at the end of one his juvenile novels he would off-handedly mention how much darker one character's skin was than another, or that the character turned out to have a Hispanic last name. He even managed to get published a novel in which the US was taken over by people like Santorum who had to be deposed through a revolution led by racial minorities (which he made acceptable by covering it over with a thick blanket of ps.-science). I don't see a similar effort from Rockwell.

Another point to consider is the slogan of the Fascist party; 'God, Nation, Family." Rockwell has an uncomfortable convergence with this ideology that is not reflected in contemporary art movements such as Surrealism. It espouses an uncritical acceptance of the status quo. For comparison here is a link to painting by a contemporary of Rockwell with a background in rural rural Minnesota. The date is 1939:

http://plattfineart.com/artist.php?id=189&artid=1180&left=2&cat=









From: [identity profile] daphnep.livejournal.com


With all due respect, I think that holding up Arnold Blanch as the true or predominant artistic voice of the culture and era, leaving Rockwell as a holdout, stretches it pretty far.

From: [identity profile] daphnep.livejournal.com


I thought of Rockwell but I think he's a whole other story, in this case. As I note below, he was doing his own thing without trying to define parameters of "Fine Art" or the public's relationship to it.

And even though his work is religious, it's not devotional--it's not intended to be a meditative device, or lead to a change of spirit upon contemplation.

Even Google seems confused when I try to search it out: my searches for artists who fit this billing bring me back such a hodgepodge of pictures, I do believe art has skirted that purpose for quite some time now.

From: [identity profile] low-delta.livejournal.com


Do you think people see God in his paintings? It's interesting how he can be subversive in that regard. "Hey, I'm a devout Christian," so people are open to looking at his work in that light (no pun intended). It becomes a surrogate. I'm sure the scenes with churches sell well, but even the others have the same feel, and the buyers will associate them.

It seems this must be fairly unique. Anyone else who can do this must surely be copying Kinkade. Or be too overtly religious. And certainly never made any level of success.

I like the Precious Moments/Hummels comparison. I think that in both cases, the collectors felt that they were buying art. And definitely, in both cases, there was a certain sense of belonging to the club. All the collectors bought the stuff because of how it made them feel. And they all had this connection with each other, which legitimized their collecting.

From: [identity profile] daphnep.livejournal.com


Do people really think they're buying art when they buy Precious Moments and Hummel? I ask sincerely, because I don't know. The one buyer of "collectibles" that I've known in adulthood--a collector of clown figurines--wouldn't have called them "fine art", but I have no expertise in this matter.

The "seeing God" thing is really a puzzle. I think Kinkade's fans feel uplifted, inspired, and associate that feeling with religious experience. At least, his marketing materials claim they do. And I think many times art creates a spiritual experience, but the 20th century has been all about meditative practice in fine art--Kandinsky and Rothko, for example. When I think about art that is made with the intent of serving an active role in the worship process, I think either of other eras (altarpieces, icons, stained glass) or other cultures: Hindu sculptures, mandalas, Mexican "ex votos". I think you're right, about nobody who's doing it (in this time, in America) has reached any level of success (recognition).


From: [identity profile] low-delta.livejournal.com


Inasmuch as the people who buy these things don't understand the distinction between art and decoration, I think... maybe. though maybe not precious moments.

But even people like us can argue about what art is. :-)

I think Kinkade's fans feel uplifted, inspired, and associate that feeling with religious experience.
Yes, and Kinkade's proclamation of his so devout Christianity reinforces this, or even guides them into the association. I think the work hanging in someone's house helps them to feel more devout, due to that uplifted feeling. It either reinforces the existing devotionals, or takes their place, for those who just don't decorate in those motifs.

From: [identity profile] low-delta.livejournal.com


To me, it seems like it was nostalgia driven, even then. The scenes were idealized versions of what was happening all over the country at the time, but the idealism sent people's thoughts to a different era, because things were always better in the past. Even today, scenes of Main Street America still exist, but they evoke nostalgia.

But I see your point that when Rockwell painted them, the scenes were current. Kinkade's are generally less anchored to the present.
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From: [identity profile] evilegg.livejournal.com


I think Kinkade is more along the lines if Precious Moments and Hummels.
The store I managed in Gainesville sold the dreadful shit, and how it worked is we sold LOTS of it to a small group of people. It was a go-to gift item for a class of people and a way to status signal with a twist of Jesus. I think that was the genius of it. People who might normally not have a distinct measure of surplus income that translated into something also acceptable to showboat about owning without looking superficial. To those hardcore Kinkade collectors there was nothing superficial or one-trick about his talent, the depth of the meaning of the artwork or the man himself and his devotion to Jesus and his wife. Kinkade reminded them of who they wanted to be. Warhol didn't do that.

From: [identity profile] daphnep.livejournal.com


Oh, dear, I've been misspelling his name all along! Ha.

I think Kinkade took himself far more seriously than the makers of Precious Moments, and so did his followers and customers. He's a manufacturer of "Art", not of knick-knacks.

Warhol reminded people of who they wanted to be, in an era that aspired to stardom and fame and recognition, when the life of drugs and sex and rock 'n roll and "15 minutes" still had allure, before we'd been that route for decades and suffered, culturally, from the likes of Lindsey Lohan.

It's that "twist of Jesus", though, that I find most perplexing.
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From: [identity profile] evilegg.livejournal.com


Twist of Jesus was the justification to buy! I believe this market had previously only filled their walls with family pics and maybe some needlework. The people who bought TK were not the custom framing crowd.

I can see where a Warhol had an appeal to a certain set of people, but the people who could afford him were already those people or had a toe in that lifestyle, anyway. I have no grasp on how well he sold to the masses when he was alive and popular. I remember doing a large framed pop-art display and it got people to stop and come inside the store, but they always bought something else.

From: [identity profile] lawbabeak.livejournal.com


You'd need Bob Ross's videos - the finished work means nothing without the happy little tree, distinctive slapping turpentine off brushes process.

From: [identity profile] daphnep.livejournal.com


Yes, exactly.

That would fit nicely with the Warhol silkscreens, I think: a story about process. And then a break-down of the production and manufacturer of "original" Kinkades.

From: [identity profile] malkhos.livejournal.com


The answer would be Norman Rockwell.

But this idea is too depressing to think about.

From: [identity profile] daphnep.livejournal.com


I don't think so. I see Rockwell as a different direction--an illustrator, from a commercial background, and the artist himself had no pretensions about his work being Fine Art.

But Duchamp, Warhol, and in his way Kincade are all about challenging what fits into that category of "Fine Art".

Rockwell, to my reading, didn't intend to change or challenge mass culture's relationship to art in a fundamental way.

From: [identity profile] malkhos.livejournal.com


He relies however, on the same kind of fictional idealization of rural America that you identified as Kincade selling point. I don't understand your points of contrast either, "a different direction--an illustrator, from a commercial background, and the artist himself had no pretensions about his work being Fine Art." That describes Kincade, except insofar as his work is more purely a commercial product, and even further removed from fine art in technique and every other way imaginable.

From: [identity profile] daphnep.livejournal.com


No, Kinkade didn't sell his as illustration (an image made to illustrate a product or story), the story he told was of himself as an "Artist". People who bought his "paintings" thought they were buying contemporary art, a "real", hand-signed work by a famous painter.

Rockwell's weren't made to send to Sotheby's and hang on a wall to advertise how rich its buyer was, they were made to sell soap, and to accompany articles in Boy's Life.

One can very much argue that it's further removed from fine art, to be sure...and Rockwell has his own conversation going about that. But I envision a show about Rockwell would be a very different exhibition (and conversation) altogether--more about commercial design as it builds and skirts the line, into fine art. I see it as a detour from the Kinkade conversation.

From: [identity profile] kylecassidy.livejournal.com


Rockwell did start to realize that he was outside the art world and made attempts to get in it by doing what he thought were More Serious Paintings. But his talent carried him and I think his place in art history is secure. I don't think any talk of Kincade can be about art alone, but this weird sort of "hey come buy a timeshare!" multi-level-marketing cultish strange marketing thing he had going on. What made him stand out wasn't his art, but his broad cult status. Warhol thrived by spinning around in a soup of movers and shakers, Kinkade was more of an L. Ron Hubbard figure; alone at the top of his ziggurat and unquestioned by his lieutenants.

From: [identity profile] annablume.livejournal.com


Okay, I have no clue but this is a fascinating conversation.

What about cowboy art?

From: [identity profile] daphnep.livejournal.com


Oh, groan! *clutching head* Too many years spent in the Southwest have eroded my intellectual and ironic detachment from cowboy art. I, personally, am liable to weep at the sight of a bronze bronco and rider.

But come to think of it, you're right, there's probably a strong Kinkade connection, particularly in how it works on thosewho buy it.

From: [identity profile] daphnep.livejournal.com


Yeah.

Now I'm thinking of Turner next to Kinkade, and that just makes me sad.
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