This article is by Brian Sherwin, regular contributing writer for FineArtViews. Brian Sherwin is an art critic, blogger, curator, artist and writer based near Chicago, Illinois. He has been published in Hi Fructose Magazine, Illinois Times, and other publications, and linked to by publications such as The Huffington Post, The Boston Globe, Juxtapoz Magazine, Deutsche Bank ArtMag, ARTLURKER, Myartspace, Blabbermouth, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, Conservative Punk, Modern Art Obsession, Citizen LA, Shark Forum, Two Coats of Paint, Vandalog, COMPANY and Art Fag City. If you want your blog posts listed in the FineArtViews newsletter with the possibility of being republished to our 18,000+ subscribers, consider blogging with FASO Artist Websites. Disclaimer: This author's views are entirely his/her own and may not reflect the views of BoldBrush, Inc.. You should submit an article and share your views as a guest author by clicking here.
There is more to this story than just 'media this, media that' rants. Jerry Saltz, and other mainstream art critics, are quick to point out the 'kitsch factor' of Kinkade's paintings. Fair enough. One can describe Thomas Kinkade as a master of kitsch -- we all know that. That said, there are several levels in the 'realm of kitsch' within the context of the overall 'world' of art. In my opinion, many of those levels can be found within Chelsea art galleries -- and within the context of so-called 'groundbreaking' exhibits... from Manhattan to London. In the end... kitsch is kitsch -- no two 'waves' are the same... but within the world of art -- overall -- we are definitely swimming in it. The irony being that mainstream art critics tend to defend the 'kitsch factor' within the art circles they support... while at the same time blasting Kinkade.
Within those coveted art galleries -- galleries that DO regularly receive mainstream press compared to other circles of the overall art world -- we tend to observe the same tired ideas -- re-titled, if you will, by a new generation of artists OR hashed out by those who have been pushing the same direction of art for years -- art that was challenging a decade ago... or longer. That is not necessarily a bad thing -- that said, if Jerry Saltz -- and other mainstream art critics -- are going to make a point of 'calling out' Thomas Kinkade (after his death)... well, they could do a better job of 'calling out' artwork (from within the circles they travel) that happens to be just as 'tired'. I suppose some 'kitsch' is comfortable.
This is what I want to stress: if we are to criticize the late Thomas Kinkade for creating "comfortable art" -- we should criticize 99% of the artwork hailed by the high profile (mainstream) aspects of the gallery world, art market, and museum world. I suggest that because most of that art is just as 'comfortable' in its own way -- at least to the audience frequenting those exhibits. The art championed by the followers of the Saltzism brand of art criticism cling to 'comfortable art' just as much as the granny who cherishes her Kinkade print. The direction in art may be different, the message may be different -- but the 'comfort factor', depending on who is viewing the artwork, is the same.
With the above in mind, the conflict over the status of Thomas Kinkade as an artist -- if you scratch the surface of it -- is an issue of conflicting comfort zones. Is a 'happy cottage' "comfortable"? -- you bet it is... so is a 'menacing dildo' passed off as a 'groundbreaking' work of sculpture, depending on who you ask. Jerry Saltz makes a point of displaying his comfort regarding phallic imagery. Should he be more critical of his own comfort zone -- and look outside of it? I, for one, think so.
The sculptor who creates a giant penis is an artist according to Jerry Saltz -- but a painter, with decades of experience -- and who did not rely on 'shock', is not? An artist who clearly had some level of skill as a traditional painter is not an artist according to Saltz -- but an artist like Damien Hirst, who clearly lacks skill when painting (look up his painting, titled, "Human Skull in Space", is? Interesting. In that sense, the criticism against Kinkade is not so much about skill... it is a comfort issue -- the, 'If I don't like it... it is not art' mentality. Comfort is comfort -- and people, including art critics, cling to it. (Note: They are BOTH artists in my opinion.)
There is a political side to the comfort zone embraced by the majority of mainstream art critics: The far-left 'gatekeepers' (Jerry Saltz included) of the mainstream art world (the art establishment that tends to dictate the direction of art history books -- and thus, our art classrooms) thrive on artwork that is 'comfortable' in their 'world' -- 'comfortable' regarding their political and social inclinations... 'comfortable' in the sense that it supports their personal motivations. Current artwork that goes against the grain of that institutional indoctrination will be challenged harshly.
With the above in mind, even if the artwork is 'good' (from a technical standpoint) it will likely be written about as less due to conflicts over 'visual message' alone. If one can't agree with the message... it must not be art, right? WRONG. Unfortunately, serious consideration is often lost -- in Jerry's 'world' -- if a work of art opposes the collective comfort of the powers that be... the powers that mainstream art critics tend to serve. Apparently political / social obedience is more important than viewing art -- they must be 'in' to secure their careers... or they will be pushed 'out'. (Note: Both sides of the political fence are guilty of this -- but one side clearly dominates key circles of the professional art world... including those supported by government funding.)
Art critic Ken Johnson was not wrong in his assessment of the mainstream art world last year (though he probably regrets his words). The politically far-left 'gatekeepers' of the mainstream art world are wary of anything that goes against the grain of their carefully crafted power structure... the 'world' they have established -- a 'world' that has reduced, in my opinion, our art museums to back-pocket additions that are extremely supportive of the mainstream gallery world / art market... places where mere investment potential is often preserved over the cultural significance of the artwork (just look at how many former art dealers have become museum directors). The 'gatekeepers' are ever-fearful of losing that grasp -- that hold on visual culture... that boost to market security... so much so that they 'attack' a recently deceased man (and those who admire his art).
If Saltz truly desired an exchange on these various issues, as he recently suggested, he would have contacted Thomas Kinkade years ago. Why did he avoid that debate? There is a simple answer in my opinion. It would have pushed him out of his political, social and career comfort zone. Tyrants rarely desire a true exchange of opinion -- especially if conflicts of ideology are placed under the scope for all to observe. (Note: Before anyone says that I'm being too hard on Saltz... do realize that I offered to interview him over a year ago to discuss some of these issues. He declined. My invitation is still open.)
In Part 3 I will explore what some mainstream art critics have been saying about the death of Thomas Kinkade -- and about his artwork in general. I will show how a few major players in art criticism have contradicted -- by criticizing Kinkade out of spite -- their normal flow of rhetoric regarding artists they admire. I will show how their 'jab' at Kinkade has offered an 'uppercut' -- slamming against the 'world' of art they support. I will also point to what other artists have said about Kinkade.
Take care, Stay true,