Tuesday, February 2, 2010

The person behind the painting

To my surprise, I bought a book the other day all about Thomas Kinkade and his work. I thought I knew all I needed to about him, this unavoidable artist, but leafing through the book at the store, glancing at the introduction by Wendy Katz, told me different. So I took the book home.*

Kinkade spurned the teachings of his Berkeley art professors, who taught students to ignore the audience and address instead their inner reality. Kinkade understood nonsense when he heard it, apparently, and changed schools, continuing to paint pictures that would communicate with and please the viewer.

His innumerable depictions of cottages and grand old houses and small town streets have won the hearts of millions. They hang in people's homes, embellish calendars, and lie scattered across tables as jigsaw puzzles. The secret seems to lie in the fact, as the book noted, that Kinkade knew how to anticipate the viewer's wishes and satisfy them.

What are those wishes? Katz calls them a "continued desire for a home with roots in a particular place, a home shaped by a particular landscape, . . . always waiting with lights on."

They include the wish for things hand made; for objects with knicks and dents and stories behind them; for results born of time, labor, and love.

I wonder, in this self-assertive, adrenalin-charged world, how can these wishes be fulfilled? Somewhere inside, the part that is fully human in us longs for the comfort and stability that such things bring. But for this, someone must be home to turn on the lights, to bake the bread, to weed the garden, to make up the guest bed. Someone to perform the slow and unexciting and repetitive tasks required to sustain that place we can come back to or that way station where we might rest along the way.

I must remind myself of this as I dust the mantel and boil the water and turn on lamps as the day grows dark, countering that old feeling that again I have accomplished nothing to brag about or take to the bank. Maybe it's okay to remain, like Kinkade's endearing subjects, humble and domestic. Maybe it's even essential to be, in effect, the person behind the painting.
*Thomas Kinkade: Masterworks of Light, Introduction & Essays by Wendy J. Katz, 2000.

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