A reason to appreciate Thomas Kinkade


I think the equation might be a fair amount of what you have seen before and a little dollop of new. Not too heavy on the new. It goes a long way.

Maybe the key is that we like art the more we are exposed to it, but not necessarily other things…


I beg fellow Boingers to click through to the link for no other reason than to appreciate the wonder of Random Man in front of a lighthouse painting.


There’s a theory that seeing something over and over and over will
increase your acceptance of that thing. Applied to art, the idea
suggests that what we think of as “good art” is actually just the
stuff that we’ve seen a bunch of times.


A recent study found that people exposed to Thomas Kinkade paintings
liked his work less and less the more often they saw it.

I have some problems with this.

First off, the scope.

It’s one thing to show someone a particular painting repeatedly and ask them their opinions on it to see how they change. It’s anothing thing to grow up with Beethoven’s 5th symphony suffused and cemented into your culture as an instantly recognizeable memetic reference. We’re talking orders - of orders - of magnitude of difference here.

We’re also talking about individual taste versus collective acceptance. If I show you a photograph that no one else has ever seen, you make up your mind about liking it or not for yourself. If I instead show you the same photograph as the cover of Time magazine, that actually substantially changes how you perceive and understand the image. Our opinions of things change drastically when we learn what other people think about those things. Consequently, when you grow up in a culture (like our own) where the Mona Lisa and the works of Shakespeare are venerated to the point that no one would ever seriously criticize or damn them publically, you are overwhelmingly influenced to share that same viewpoint, regardless of the quality of the works themselves.

Which leads into a different point I have. Thomas Kinkade and others like him have never been good artists - they’ve been good marketers. Kinkade wasn’t good at painting - he and his business associates were good at temporarily convincing other people that he was good at painting, even despite the obvious evidence of the painting itself. They were good at getting people to judge the works subjectively instead of objectively. They used subtle social and psychological manipulations to try to endear consumers to the images, to distract them, to “compel” them to take notice, and then to purchase.

It’s just like anything else. Nike shoes cost pennies to produce but sell for hundreds of dollars. Why? Because you aren’t selling a shoe, you’re selling a lifestyle or an attitude. This is why luxury car commercials are all full of abstract floaty serene imagery, and why truck commercials are full of grit and grime and tough imagery, and why alcohol commercials are full of people having fun and being social and not-directly-suggested-but-totally-implied having tons of sex.

The thing being sold isn’t important - the thoughts and feelings you can influence someone to associate with that thing are. And just like Kinkade’s work, if you repeatedly expose someone to any piece of commercial garbage outside of the context of proper advertizing and commercials, they’ll eventually start seeing through the veneer and realizing the thing itself isn’t all that great, and they’re not entirely sure why they thought it was in the first place.

Those Nikes that looked so gorram amazing in the TV ad with the star athlete, and on the display stand in the storefront, and even sitting in their stylized cardboard box, stuffed full of tissue paper, or brand-new and shiny on your feet? Yeah, if someone had you sit down and stare at them for an hour or two, or even more, long enough that you got bored of only seeing the “imagined” version of the item and actually started looking at the physical object? Yeah, suddenly they look like just another pair of shoes.

But then again, you don’t actually want to think that way, because you already spent $249.99 on them. To see them for what they really are would destroy the only value they ever had in your mind. You’d do just as well to throw them away.


I used to do a lot of antique shopping. I started to have an eye for the stuff that I’d see everywhere vs. the stuff that was different. When I would go with someone who was not as familiar with antique stores, they’d be drawn to things like the Carnival Glass, and I’d explain that this was widely available (at the time it was not being collected much). So, I found with time that my eye developed to weed out the things that were common and seek out the unusual, even if the commonly found items were in and of themselves interesting - like Carnival Glass, which is very shiny.

The first time I saw Thomas Kinkade I was really impressed with his use of light. After a while, I found him to be a one trick pony with a lot of hackneyed subjects. However, I’ll give him props that he did have that one lighting trick down really well.

Well, they are for sale at the nice mall, so it has to be good.

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This isn’t too surprising to me. Just ask someone why they like a famous artwork. True, it’s difficult to explain precisely why certain things appeal to us, but ask someone this, and often people are unable to come up with any kind of answer.

Also, I think this theory holds true for music. Listen to the radio. The songs that are popular are in this sort of chicken-or-the-egg cycle. We hear the same pop songs over and over until we almost ritualistically respond positively (tapping our toes, singing along, etc.). Why are they played so often? Because they’re popular/good. And why are they popular/deemed as good? Because we hear them so much.

Well when a vast majority of radio stations play either the “Top 40” or the “Classics” from certain prior decades, is it any wonder which songs become or stay popular?

Of course, radio also has much bigger, uglier problems too…

When I first saw Kinkade’s output I really thought that it was an elaborate internet prank. The man appeared to have no self-awareness whatsoever, or artistic merit for that matter - he wasn’t even as good as a painting elephant or chimpanzee, my dog could do better (even though I don’t have a dog).

Please, no more!

Hmm, some things played over and over suck, even on the first listen.

There is no need to appreciate Kincaid. None at all. Just go about your business.

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Very true. I was speaking of the general, Top 40-listening crowd. I pretty much listen to NPR or music on a device over which I have complete control.

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Dear Bob, You must have the most terrible taste in art. What a negative view you have. I bet you have never
even looked at Thom’s amazing artwork. Over 1000 paintings in all styles and techniques. God bless

Keep being negative because the more you are the more popular Thomas Kinkade’s amazing artwork becomes.
Have you ever viewed Thom’s French impressionism with the pen name Robert Girard?
Thom’s legacy will live on forever! (I don’t want to see your artwork) God bless!

This article illustrates a basic problem with Kinkade’s work and the author is actually very generous.


That’s a decent overview of Kinkade. I absolutely can not stand the guy. I think he has talent - but as the article pointed out - he degrades his work with schlock. I had not seen many of those earlier paintings, and some of them were actually quite nice. Definitely much more merit than his more well known stuff.

Huh. Shameful as it may be to admit, I kinda like a lot of his stuff. And probably for the reason noted at the end of Joe Carter’s appreciation (depreciation?) linked above:

The cottage is a self-contained safe place where the viewer can shut himself in and get away from the harsh realities of creation, particularly away from other people. The Cottage by the Sea offers a place where the viewer can enter the perfect world of Kinkade’s creation—and escape the messy world of Kinkade’s Creator.

And it’s not specifically The Cottage By The Sea I like, but all his wintry little cottage-themed things. When I was ten I lived for a winter in a log cabin in western Montana, near the shores of Flathead Lake. Nights were cold and sometimes a bit scary to me. I imagined I could hear wolves howling some nights, though that was just my imagination. But our cabin felt snug and warm and reassuringly full of familial love. Even though those six months between November 1979 and April 1980 were the only months of my life I lived outside of Southern California, I still have strongly pleasant associations with warm incandescent light, walled off from a cold and probably uncaring outside world.

Kinkade had lots of talent, but I think a great deal of it was squandered in crass attempts to appeal to the nostalgia (false or otherwise) of people like me. But I’m not gonna pretend that none of his stuff manages to improve my day. I’m not an evangelical Christian, and haven’t been any sort of Christian in twenty-five years or so. I’ve never owned any of his stuff, never been really tempted to buy any of it. And I get why he’s so reviled. But I like to look at a lot of his stuff. I’m never gonna argue that Red Vines are Nature’s Perfect Food in anything close to complete seriousness. But I do enjoy eating them.

There’s a place for it, just as there’s a place for Bob Ross. That place is not thoughtful deep analysis of Serious Art, it’s something cozy to look at in a motel or dentist’s waiting room. You don’t want to be confronted with Anselm Kiefer or Francis Bacon when you’re about to cheat on your wife or get a root canal.

Man, I would have loved to have Bob Ross as a dentist. “A happy little filling in this molar here, why not? It’s your mouth, you can put anything you like in there.”

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Also, by the way, Bob Ross taught some good shortcut techniques that you would never get from any jumped-up art school loser “professors.” Sure, in the service of pabulum, but there’s no reason you couldn’t adopt his tricks to more aspirational representative art. Fan brush!