Art, Artists, Bigotry, Hate and the Passing of Thomas Kinkade
By Alan Bamberger of Artbusiness.com
America is a marvelously diverse land with a diversity of people and a diversity of tastes. I know this firsthand; I've crisscrossed our great nation again and again over the past three decades and have spent time with many different people of many different outlooks, statuses and perspectives on life. Do you know one thing I've learned? All kinds of people like all kinds of art for all kinds of reasons, which brings me to the rather sudden and unexpected passing of Thomas Kinkade.
Somehow, this relatively unmomentous event unleashed a torrent of disdain, derision and outright hate among the art world's anointed, expressed with complete disregard for other people's feelings and complete disrespect for their tastes, in tirades that were difficult to comprehend, much less stomach. The funeral hadn't even happened yet and already high art highbrows were mercilessly skewering virtually every aspect of this man's existence. Now I'm well aware of the fact that there's nothing artists and their sycophants love to hate more than a successful artist, especially a commercially successful one, but the sentiments expressed in Kinkade's case went way beyond that.
Artland's more arrogant denizens took this man's demise as an opportunity to lash out not only at the artist himself, his art, and the millions of people who own it, but also at pretty much everyone else on the face of the planet who might happen to like art that's different from the art that these pretentious aesthetes have christened in their arcane cabals to be the authentic real deal 100% bona fide McCoy, and more importantly, the only art we're ever supposed to acknowledge, appreciate, revere, and last but not least, like. Nothing else is art; everything else, we must endlessly denigrate.
That's right. We're talking genuine intolerance and bigotry here, almost as if the exalted are decreeing to the rest of the world, "Our art is the right art and your art is the wrong art. In fact, your art is not art, and your artists are not even artists. How can you possibly like what they do? How can you be so ignorant?"
Fortunately, these ultra-cultured arbiters can deliver the lowly and misguided among us from our aesthetic misery. They can help; they know what's right. All we have to do is listen and learn as they shepherd us to artistic salvation. They know that by gifting us with the opportunity to experience their art on their terms, and by allowing us to listen with earnest uncompromising supplication as they enlighten us, that we will ultimately bask in the brilliance of their privilege. We will have no choice but to yield to their preeminence while simultaneously realizing the pathetic folly of our uninformed ways. According to these hallowed connoisseurs, no matter who we are, how little we know or understand about art, what our past artistic histories may be, or what we might like now, we can always be saved. What's good and what's right according to them can be ours if we want it.
Hmmm. It can? There's hope? That's heartening to know. But in the meantime, is it OK for us to like our cowboy art or our still-lifes of fruit on table tops or our clown paintings or our religious art or our ethnic art or our graffiti art or our kitty cat portraits or our tasteful over-the-couch abstracts or art by our town's favorite artist or, God forbid, a painting of a cozy little cottage at the end of a flower-filled path? Or is it not OK? Do you self-proclaimed kahunas have to weigh in on absolutely everything absolutely all of the time? Do you have to viciously castigate any artist who happens to make art that's different from the art that you appreciate, and lay the same verdict on those who appreciate it? Or is it OK for other people to like other art? Do you mind much if we like the art that we like just because we like it, even if we know less about art than you do, maybe even much less? Do you have to trash our favorite artists up, down and sideways? Do you have to dance on their graves even before they're buried in 'em? We can only hope you'll be so kind and generous as to allow us to keep on appreciating the art that we already enjoy. We like our Thomas Kinkade's. They make us feel good every time we look at them. They add joy to our lives. They really do. What's so horrible about that?
Taste is a personal thing and so are plenty of other inalienable rights and privileges that we Americans enjoy, including the ability to make whatever art we feel like making for whatever reasons we feel like making it, and to enjoy whatever art we feel like enjoying for whatever reasons we feel like enjoying it. Nobody knows why we like the art that we like. Nobody knows whether the art that we like is the right or wrong art to like-- although many profess to have the answers to those questions. The last time I checked, we have freedom of taste in this country. We're allowed to like whatever art we want to. So why don't we just go ahead and give each other permission to do that? And in the meantime, let's give props to those artists who deserve them, to those artists who have achieved success in whatever realms of art or "not art" they've achieved it in, whether we agree with how they've achieved it or not.
Sadly, the prejudice and extremist rhetoric puked up by certain sectors of the art world seems not only sanctioned, but even condoned in ways that are simply not appropriate or even permissible in other areas of our lives. Can you imagine people speaking with the same imperiousness about what's right or wrong with someone's religion, ethnicity, gender, political affiliation, education or social status the same ways they do about art? Absolutely not! Where exactly does this imprimatur come from? What entitles these elitists to be so strident about "sharing" their opinions and declaring what's right while requiring the rest of us to get up to speed? Don't you think that's just a little much? What is it about the abstruse underpinnings of your art that's so essential for us to know and understand anyway? Here's a thought-- give it a break. You enjoy your art; we'll enjoy ours.
As for you artists who so eagerly partook in the Kinkade pile-on, take a little time out of your busy creative lives to think about the people of Lubbock, Knoxville, Jackson, Des Moines, Columbus, Charleston, Spokane, Pierre and all the other cities and towns across America, in other words, the people who happen to live their lives outside the big-city culture zones. Each and every one of them has their favorite art and their favorite artists. They may not be your favorite artists, but they're artists just the same... and they're artists just like you.
Perhaps instead of spewing vitriol, the time has come for artists to consider the bigger picture, to contemplate why they've been gifted with the talents they've been gifted with and how they might make existence on this planet just a little bit better not only for themselves and their inner circles, but for everyone. As artists, you possess creative skills, abilities and visions to make life more livable. So rather than tear down other artists who dedicate their lives to the exact same ends that you do-- no matter how misguided you feel they may be-- and rather than continue to brutally fragment artland with your rancor, maybe instead acknowledge and respect the incredible diversity and universality of art, and the ways in which so many artists express their own unique perspectives in hopes of upgrading, evolving, enriching and enhancing the quality and meaning of our lives.