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Tuesday, June 01, 2010

Joan Didion is cited on Thomas Kinkade's Wikipedia page

The Thomas Kinkade takedown is an exercise like shooting fish in a barrel, but I was interested in A.S. Hamrah's essay from The Baffler about valuing Kinkade's art and the subprime mortgage crisis in California. The centerpiece of the essay is the Thomas Kinkade-themed homes outside of Vallejo, which are in various states of foreclosure and squatters' temporariness. Here's the thesis:
Whatever his value as an artist, he has used his own experience to create a business that predicted and in some ways replicates the current mortgage crisis. His paintings of quaint houses with burning interiors substitute nostalgia for values and hope for community. The idea that these reproductions, gobbed with points of light, are a good investment isn’t any different than the idea that flipping gated, golf- coursed mansions is the way to get rich. Kinkade is a living testament to how the triumph of kitsch values has repercussions in the marketplace, outside the world of taste.

In that italicized sentence, you can see how the piece works like a good Joan Didion essay, and Didion's Where I Was From shows up in the middle because she's turned to Kinkade and the interior of California before. Indeed, I learned from the essay that Didion is cited in Thomas Kinkade's Wikipedia article! From Wikipedia:
Essayist Joan Didion is a representative critic of Kinkade's style:

A Kinkade painting was typically rendered in slightly surreal pastels. It typically featured a cottage or a house of such insistent coziness as to seem actually sinister, suggestive of a trap designed to attract Hansel and Gretel. Every window was lit, to lurid effect, as if the interior of the structure might be on fire.

She goes on to compare the "Kinkade Glow" to the luminism of 19th-century painter Albert Bierstadt, who sentimentalized the infamous Donner Pass in his Donner Lake from the Summit. Didion sees "unsettling similarities" between the two painters, and worries that Kinkade's own treatment of the Sierra Nevada, The Mountains Declare His Glory, similarly ignores the tragedy of the forced dispersal of Yosemite's Sierra Miwok Indians during the Gold Rush, by including an imaginary Miwok camp as what he calls "an affirmation that man has his place, even in a setting touched by God's glory."

Hamrah earns the commentary on kitsch and overvalued property by turning to the financial troubles of the Thomas Kinkade company, which has relied on that connection all along:
Investors lost a lot of money, but now the business is owned solely by the Thomas Kinkade Company, an entity that has turned “light,” according to its company profile, into an acronym for “Loyalty-Integrity-Growth-Honoring God-Trust.” Like the acronym, it almost worked.

The FBI has reportedly been investigating Kinkade since 2006. According to news reports, the bureau’s probe began after “at least” six former Kinkade Signature Gallery owners sued the Kinkade Company for fraud. They claimed the company persuaded them to invest in galleries and then undercut them by selling Kinkade reproductions direct to consumers for less than the galleries charged.

The turns to Robert Frost and especially Eugene O'Neill are excellent in the essay, and I'm still wondering about this great sentence about visitors to the playwright's home in Danville: "Even the grave of O’Neill’s dog Blemie doesn’t move them very much, and they barely stop to look at themselves in the strange black mirror in the master bedroom."

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Anonymous Alice's mom on Mon Jun 07, 10:46:00 PM:
Kinkade is kind of a cheap target, Alice, but a fun post nevertheless.

What I would have liked to know, however, is just how much a Kinkade original sells for -- "then" and now. Do you have any numbers?

It's odd, cultural criticism of kitsch is so engaging. But adding some dollar figures would give it edge.