Do you know what I’ve discovered? According to every art critic this side of Jupiter, I should be mortified, shave my head, put on sackcloth, grovel in ashes, and never show my face in the light of day to intelligent people for years to come because I own (gasp!) a rather large “signed” Thomas Kinkade painting (a numbered reproduction of “Cobblestone”) which resides over my fireplace. Because according to art critics far and wide, Kindade’s work is schlock, a bunch of shit, paint-by-numbers for the uninitiated, schmaltzy pooh-pooh for the Walmart set, fodder for white trash, and just plain ol’ untalented treacle to set sophisticated people’s teeth on edge.
Cobblestone by Thomas Kinkade
Yet, I (college-educated, avid reader of Shakespeare to David Foster Wallace, patron of the arts, aspiring writer, one bad-ass Black Diva, and nobody’s dummy), own and proudly display a Thomas Kinkade painting in my home. Horrors! Egads! WTF! Alert the goose-stepping art police.
The critics have been merciless these last few days since the announcement of Kinkade’s untimely death—merciless to him and anybody who can even say “painter of light.” And as soon as Thomas Kinkade’s duplicitous sorry-ass life came to light (no pun intended) which revealed him to be an alcoholic, as someone who had groped a woman’s breast that was not his wife (WTF!), as a patron of strip clubs and bars, as someone who divorced his wife and left his four children, as a scoundrel who screwed over his business partners, and as a luddite who pissed on Disney’s Winnie the Pooh just for the hell of it (seriously, dude?), the art critics—hell, anybody who could spell the word “critic”—fell into apoplectic spasms of glee and danced on the man’s legacy with abandonment as they skewered him into the grave.
Well, his critics should have asked me before he died whether I thought he lived the pristine Christian life he painted and boasted about, and I would have probably said, “I doubt it.” Not because I would have been judging the man, but because I know human nature and I know a little bit about art. The Kinkade dude was painting a life he “wished we could live” just as Picasso splintered the world he saw into cubism because he said, “The world today doesn’t make sense, so why should I paint pictures that do?”
Picasso’s Woman in an Armchair – Synthetic cubism (1912–1919)
But here’s the deal: I love Picasso’s “Blue Period” (hell, I can even tolerate Picasso’s “Rose Period,” and I really liked his short-lived “African Period,” known as his “Negro Period”), but I hate the Cubism that made him a household name. I feel his pain when I contemplate his “Blue” paintings (for it is the betrayal, rejection, and isolation I have struggled with all my life), but I feel absolutely freakin’ “nothing” when I study his Cubist art, even when an art teacher is standing beside me trying to browbeat my taste beyond that of a Philistine.
Picasso’s La Vie (1903), Cleveland Museum of Art
As I began to fume over the art critics and their pretentious and snarky remarks about a dead man who couldn’t defend himself, I started to meditate on how much critics of all kinds are so similar in stripes to bullies.
Think about it: Wikipedia notes that a bully is one person or group trying to use “superior strength or influence to intimidate, manipulate or control (someone), typically to force him or her to do what one wants.” I decided to start a petition to send to Congress (who isn’t doing anything anyway except being bullies so they might as well work on my idea) to pass a bill that would give us an IYTDWYWTD (“It’s Your Thing, Do What You Want to Do”) month-long celebration. (The name of the bill is inspired by the Isley Brothers’ song: “It’s your thing, do what you wanna do. I can’t tell you, who to sock it to.”) For one month a year, I propose we declare a national holiday to wear, eat, build, make music, recite poetry, buy art, paint pictures, etc. that really makes us happy, helps us understand the world we live in, and helps us translate the grace and love of God in an otherwise fucked up world. I only have one binding caveat: Don’t do anything that will harm our nation’s children or another race or gender.
The bill I shall propose to Congress will read something like this:
My fellow Americans—If you think being fashionable is wearing the outfit critics ridiculed as the worst Oscar outfit ever, then go for it baby! Wear it to the damn PTA meeting next week if you so desire.
Celine Dion in a Dior backwards pantsuit||Getty Image
And if your hairdo of choice makes Bob Marley roll over in his grave, then “johncrow always tink im picney pretty.” (Rastafarian for: Parents always think their children are beautiful anyway, so what do you care what people think?)
The Rastafarian Elephant Hairdo||pophangover.com
Maybe your fancy is to build one of the world’s ugliest buildings. If so, grab a hammer, some nails, and basket weaving materials and have at it, Sweatpea!
Longaberger Home Office, Newark, Ohio||travelandleisure.com
However, if construction is not your thing, you can write another episode of “Glee” (you can’t do worse than Ryan Murphy’s been doing lately) or sneak and watch it while your biker friends go play pool with the other Hell’s Angels. But if watching Glee is your thing then do what you have to do to bring a little joy into your life, Sugah!
Moment in Contemplation: Why Glee Sucks Now||www.east-of-nowhere.com
And maybe if the faith you can’t live up to and the family you can’t hold on to, or the addiction you can’t shake, but wish you could, gets expressed through paintings and sculptures that only certain people get but others don’t, then screw the critics! As long as you aren’t perverting little kids, or hurting other people, knock yourself out!
Thomas Kinkade||Jesus Statue
(In the interest of full disclosure: I hate this painting and the subsequent sculptures of T. Kinkade that came from it, and I can’t hold back expressing my criticism, even if I keep it stuffed down inside, because the pain on my face says it all. I mean, I loves me some Jesus—don’t misunderstand me—but I can see what Kinkade’s critics meant when I look at this particular segment of his artwork—I choke on the smell of cotton candy that oozes from it.) See what I’m talkin’ about? (Sigh!)
I am discovering that we are all “critics” (bullies) in some form or another because we all are hyper-critical as a nation and a people, and we all want our own way. And we don’t just simply disagree and walk away—we disdain each other and hold each other in contempt if our tastes don’t marry. We all harshly judge the self-expressions of others if they don’t align with our opinions of what is “good taste” because we want everyone to be created in our image which is only an honor that God gets to mandate.
On the day my husband, WW, and I purchased the Kinkade painting many years ago which hangs over our fireplace, I didn’t know much about Thomas Kinkade, nor did I give a shit that he was considered kitsch art. WW and I had lost one of our loved ones to a world of drugs and we thought we’d never see her again. People we counted as friends had betrayed and abandoned us, and we couldn’t find sustainable employment to save our lives. We were close to losing our home and everything we had worked so hard to acquire. All our dreams seemed to have been destroyed by forces that were beyond our control. As we strolled through art galleries in a town whose name I no longer remember (just to take our minds off our misery), when we saw the painting, “Cobblestone” by Thomas Kinkade, nothing in it reminded us of the harsh ghetto from which I had escaped or the lower middle-class New England spiritual darkness that WW had fled, or our then current nightmare. What the painting did remind us of was the vision of the love, the home, the community we had tried to build and had seemingly failed to hold on to. The light and the promise in that painting gave us hope that maybe, just maybe, all was not lost, if we just held onto each other and trusted God to see us through the darkness. I don’t know why the copy of the Picasso, the original Gullah painting by John Jones, the other originals from artists whose names are not well-known that grace our home did not break through that particular darkness. All I know is that at the hour and the time we most needed it, Thomas Kinkade’s painting did what the kind of art I like tends to do—it encouraged me to “never give up hope” because I would see a brighter day. I only wish it had done the same for Thomas Kinkade.
John Jones’ “Gullah Shrimp Bateau”||www.gallerychuma.com
“We all know that Art is not truth. Art is a lie that makes us realize truth, at least the truth that is given us to understand. The artist must know the manner whereby to convince others of the truthfulness of his lies.” ~Pablo Picasso
“What art offers is space – a certain breathing room for the spirit.” ~John Updike
“God is really only another artist. He invented the giraffe, the elephant and the cat. He has no real style. He just goes on trying other things.” ~Pablo Picasso
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