Sunday, April 08, 2012

Shining a Light on the matter: Kinkade - 'Painter of Light'?

Sadly, the painter the 'Art' world loves to hate, Thomas Kinkade passed away over Easter, and his passing raises an interesting question. The question isn't whether or not his paintings are good Art - I have as little interest in your opinion on that as you probably have in my opinion on that - but what is interesting, is what people look to Art to do for them.

I won't get into the deeper depths of the question, you can find an excellent exploration of it, beginning with "Pulling Back the Curtain", at 'Art Renewal' (which, BTW, I highly recommend) , but rather, what is it you expect Art to do for you? Not whether or not it is good Art, but what do you expect Art, as Art, to provide you... what makes it worthwhile - or not (and why not) - in your life?
Munch 'The Scream'
Kinkade 'The lighted path'

One expectation, popular in the modern era, is the expectation that Art will generate a reaction in you... that when you look at the art work, and not only a reaction, but usually an indignant one, one that drives you to seek justice for this and that offense, or which calls into question your complacency over this or that social issue, or which drives you to support one cause or another, etc, etc., etc...and there's also usually a reaction that makes it very easy for you to feel superior to others (a common side-effect which its promoters expect, though they won't publicly claim) .

As you might guess... that's not what I look to for Art.

Though honestly, I don't primarily look to Art for Art... meaning, I'm more inclined to literature, or music, than visual arts (painting, sculpture, etc.), but even so, I do not look to Art to 'prompt' me to action. When I turn to Art, I'm looking for... a means of contemplation. It could be contemplating simply pleasures, or the meaning of some aspect of, or of life itself, or of the difficulty of distinguishing between the two, but in either case I look to Art to provide me with a pathway... inwardly outwards... so to speak. By that I mean that Art gives me a way to delve deeper into an idea, or an ideal or the choice between the two, or to a deeper contemplation of a choice which is necessary to pursuing them, and which in some way draws my thoughts into direct contact with my sense of my own place in the scheme of things, and how that idea connects me to it.

Picasso 'Dora Maar Au Chat'
Can you say the same for the 'art' which follows from the modernist sort? My usual victim to pick on here is Munch's "The Scream"( top left above)... or the pathetic blotches of Picasso (left), or the splatterer, or the 'piss christ'r, etc.

What is it that the person who finds 'value' in such 'art', looking for? Are they either seeking or finding a pathway towards contemplation? I suppose you could view the piss christ and think about how... what... how religion pisses you off, I suppose? Or life is miserable and pisses you off? But ask yourself, do such reactions seem more likely to direct your attention in towards understanding yourself better, or to the more easy outwards gaze of judging the actions & deeds of others?

Godward 'Classical Beauty'
It's a question that the person who claims to appreciate Art, should spend some time asking themselves, as Dumbledore put it, 'the choice between what is right and what is easy', what do you choose?

That question doesn't mean that Art must always be 'heavy' or significant in some pretentious way, my idea of Art doesn't exclude what seemed to be Kinkade's theme, that of contemplating the simple pleasures - which Kinkade's art seems exceptionally well suited to (see top right) - a relaxing "Ahhh... that'd be nice....", rather the question of 'what is right and what is easy', to me, is less one of degree and more one of direction.

Does your idea of art direct your attention in towards your engagement with the subject, as I think  Godward's "Classical Beauty" does, or does it give you the the easy out of finding fault (or pleasure) outside yourself, through others? Does it connect you to your relation with the subject, or, be it porn or Picasso, does it let you to dodge the issue altogether, finding reactive fuel in others?

Kinkade's art, though usually dis'd as 'shlock' or 'Hallmark in a frame', served to find some harmonizing chord in those who responded to it, it somehow solidified their grip on themselves in the world.
Dicksee 'Chivalry'
Other art, such as Dicksee's 'Chivalry', is beautiful... but if you look at the lady's gaze who has been rescued... does she really look like she feels entirely safe and secure? There's a question raised for you to pursue. And a far more extreme case can be found with Carvagio, hardly the serene contemplation of beauty and justice - though they are inseparable from it... in either case what it has the effect of doing is illuminating and harmonizing my thoughts on this or that particular subject, or on life in general.
Caravaggio 'Judith Beheading Holofernes'

But notice what the Daily News article notes about Thomas Kinkade and his art, from a sniffy artsy type:
“I think the reason you probably aren’t going to find his work in many museums, if any, is that there really wasn’t anything very innovative about what he was doing...,” said Michael Darling, chief curator of Chicago’s Museum of Contemporary Art. “I really think that he didn’t bring anything new to art.”
They are far more concerned with 'innovation', something that pushes the envelope... an envelope that has been pushed from a Marcel Duchamp's "Fountain ", which displayed a urinal as 'art' at the opening of the 20th century, to Chris Ofili's dung covered rendition of the Virgin Mary at the close of the 20th century - you'll have to find your own links... not something I interested in seeing. Modern Art, in all its guises, tends to direct your attention, and any semblance of thoughts they might incite, towards problems and issues outside yourself - things which require action or reaction, just as a pinball machine paddle strikes the pinball and sends it scuttling across the playing surface, modern art strikes your passions and sends you out after one cause or another, maybe even seeking 'justice!'... but does it bring you any closer to your understanding of yourself, your deeper relation to the world or even towards any sort of sublime understanding of life?

I confess, I can't see how.

On the other hand, the artists I mentioned, Art or Sculpture, observing their art, draws you in - not only towards the Art, but in towards yourself. The Pieta, by Michangelo, with Mary mother of God, holding the dead body of her Son, the Son of God... the clarity of her predicament is an engraved invitation to examine your thoughts of what is of worth, how it can be lost, risked... what is worth such sacrifice... what good can be served, and then towards the Good which she, and her son, felt was served... how that impacted her, and every other life over the last two thousand years....

Godward's, Beauty with a Mirror, she is beautiful... in harmony, and yet there is a cast to her stance and expression, that says that the beauty in her form must find it's source, and expression, in something more than a mirror...
Godward's 'The Mirror'
The Pieta, by Michangelo, depicting Mary Mother of God, holding the dead body of her Son, the Son of God... the depth and clarity of her predicament is an engraved invitation to examine your own thoughts of what is of worth, how it can be lost, risked... what is worth such sacrifice... what good can be served, what good did she, and her son, feel was served... how that impacts her, and every other life over the last two thousand years....

Annibale Carracci's Hercules Choice, the choice between easy pleasures 'what's good for the moment', as opposed what is Good for the eternal... turns your thoughts towards what is Good, and how do you identify and place, and reverence it, live up to, or fail to live up to, it in your life... there are hours that can be expended in that pursuit, and it wall all tend to perfect your life within, and that understanding tends to be reflected now and then in your actions without.

Kinkade's paintings... I don't see them as being in the same league, but they are certainly in the same game... they stir an 'ahh' from me, I can imagine someone coming home from a long day, or week, to his paintings, being soothed and re-collected within themselves... that's nothing to sneeze... or sniff... at. Personally, it doesn't lead me much further than that... but there is something that should be pointed out, that you can't contemplate such a scene without... experiencing, and desiring... the harmony it portrays. In his paintings, all is right with the world and with your place in it. It is good. You do not view his paintings and experience a fracturing of your spirit, or feelings of guilt, or anger, or hate... but soundness, harmony, and perhaps even a quiet, relaxed affection, even love, for life, the world, and what you would at the very least HOPE was or could be, your place in it.

Look at The Scream. Or the splatterer, Jackson Pollock

What do you find in that? You could contemplate much, but it would not be integrative contemplation, which is what beauty inspires, instead it would be angst, strife, ... oppression and guilt perhaps, anger and fear... at the world, at the unfairness, the utter lack of control you have over your life or anything in it... it is an overall fracturing which such 'art' produces within a person and their soul. Not an identification that you need to do more... but that nothing can be done, despair for despairs sake.

Is that Art?

Is that worthwhile?

Is that something you WANT in your life?

Take another look at Kincaide's paintings. 

They may not have the depth of Michelangelo, or the subtlety of past masters, but they do produce some sensations of beauty and of your drawing into harmonizing with it.

Is that Art?

You really should ask yourself these questions... because there are philosophies which are ruling and even destroying the world, which are very much more in line with one of these styles of Art, than the other.

Can you see which one?

Which way leads to Light and progress, and which to darkness and regress?

Which do you think is more likely to fortify you to endure, to lead you through the inevitable darkness towards the light on the other side, and which is more likely to turn you towards the darkness and dump you off into ever deepening strains of it?

You really do need to contemplate that question... and to choose.


Joan of Argghh! said...

Some things are merely illustrative. If performed to best of the illustrator's ability, we find a beauty in it that transcends the subject matter.

I guess I consider Rembrandt more of the painter of light because he made the darkness to be seen as exceedingly dark. Thus, even the faintest hue of reflected light appears as a monumental Truth. The eye sees and approves of the truth in the illustration. Kinkade worked too hard to illustrate the light, imho, and thus it loses its comparative advantage.

mushroom said...

Kinkade would probably -- and maybe did -- cite Norman Rockwell as being influential. I think he was trying to do what Rockwell did. Joan has picked a good word "illustrate".

Kinkade painted beautiful scenes and did so beautifully. As you say, they are most often restful and friendly. They are not powerful painting, necessarily, like Van Gogh's. They are not even powerful in the same way as something like Remington's "A Dash for the Timber" -- the original of which I have seen up close.

That brings up the point that some paintings you have to see with the naked eye to "get". And some you can at least begin to appreciate through reproductions.

I hate it that I find myself coming to Kinkade's defense.

Pure opinion: Pollock just sucked. I have always like Munch's painting. I haven't seen enough Picassos bald-eyed to say one way or the other.

Walking through galleries, the paintings that drew me in were generally the classics -- like Godward, Titian, Hayez, Renoir, etc. Partly that has to do with the subjects which are often epic, but part of it is the vision of the painter.

Van Harvey said...

Joan, I also think that's a good way to put it, his paintings were more illustrations on steroids, than what is traditionally thought of as Art. I don't have anything of his, but not because of any 'superior' perspective I have, I never minded when one of his paintings popped up on a page, or in a store, I'd pause a moment and think 'Hmm... nice...', but that was about the extent of interest he got from me. I don't begrudge anybody else if they thought he perfectly captured the sorts of scenes that pleased their souls - good for them... and him.

Nothing against Rembrandt, I like him - especially "Philosopher in meditation" & "Philosopher with an open book" love those, but the style I like best is Godward, and Sir Lawrence Alma-Tadema, Titian... and so forth. I think I like their clarity & clean lines better. Or at least that's the best explanation I can think of... for them. But that explanation falls all to heck as soon as I pass a Van Gogh.

Intellectually, I Hate! everything about Van Gogh's style... Hate it!. I don't like Matisse, or Renoir, or any of those goobers, and I should Hate! Van Gogh... but I couldn't walk past one of his paintings without staring for mucho many moments... for cash money... or even gold.

His landscapes, flowers, etc... an electric current plugs through eyes to my spinal chord. Boom. Hooked. His paintings of buildings, I actively dislike (disturbed by), though the one of the outdoor cafe at night gets a pass. His portraits repulse me something fierce, but a cyprus, or a field, or a lake or stary night... boom! Winning!

And that's probably all that needs to be said about intellectualizing Art... it goes only so far, and then something much deeper within you takes it from there....

Van Harvey said...

Mushroom, Yep.

Van Harvey said...

I've gotta say I am kinda bummed about "Art Renewal" requiring registration to view some of their online art.

Still an awesome site... but they could have done without that. Or, then again, maybe they ju$t couldn't continue without that.

Sometime's it's easy to forget that server farms cost moola.

Van Harvey said...

(Lucky for me I downloaded a few hundred of my favorites, years ago.)