Imagine: Life Without Critics

13 Apr

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||

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||

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||

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”||

“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

Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Eleanor Tomczyk and “How the Hell Did I End Up Here?” with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.


Posted by on April 13, 2012 in Uncategorized


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38 responses to “Imagine: Life Without Critics

  1. Shonnie

    April 13, 2012 at 11:38 pm

    I think you are right … do your own thang! 😀

    Seriously though–you know everyone is a critic–I kinda think I am, just ask my children. 😉 Would be so nice if the world weren’t so filled with critics–maybe not. Then, we couldn’t look good in our own judgment of our righteous defense of the criticized.

    • etomczyk

      April 14, 2012 at 7:33 am

      Shonnie. We all are huge critics. I don’t think I’ve ever met anyone who isn’t. They may have learned to control their mouths a bit, as I hoepfully have through the years, but if their inside voices are left unfiltered, good God Almighty! I once read that “comparison is death” and comparing is what we do all the time because it makes us feel superior–thus the fascination with reality shows. Look at the magazine covers, the red carpet events, the Joan Rivers fasion police, the critique following every award event about who was the worst and the best dressed (isn’t getting the award enough?),the heightened criticism from one political party to another over the slightest hic-cup. . .it goes on and on. We could use a lot more grace in or country–I think we’d all have a lot more peace.

      Thanks for stopping by. I’ve dropped by your place a couple of times and notice that your “reconstruction plans” have really been successful. You look marvelous! Congratulations!

  2. You As A Machine

    April 14, 2012 at 12:22 am


  3. alanemartinez

    April 14, 2012 at 2:55 am

    great paintings

  4. aFrankAngle

    April 14, 2012 at 7:10 am

    I confess that I didn’t know the Kincade critics have come out of the woodwork since his death. Besides the great points about art having a special meaning to the viewer, I appreciate your premise that we are a society of critics/bullies. I think of the plethora of reality shows as an example and wonder the following: Do reality shows mimic society or does society mimic reality shows? Whatever the answer, it sure is sad.

    • etomczyk

      April 14, 2012 at 8:10 am

      Hey Frank. Actually, this is a reality tale of the ages. Mr. Kinkade’s life turned out to be one he was performing for the critics and they kept panning him. According to the statements put out by his brother, kinkade “lusted” after the affection and acceptance of the established art world and its critics and they consistently and constantly put him through the wood chipper. The more he produced, the richer he got, the larger his audience grew, the more the critics panned him (to be fair, some of his stuff is pretty awful), so that the kitsch flooded the market and pretty much overwhelmed any genuine talent. According to the brother, the constant rejection was the thing that drove Kinkade to madness and to drink. An autopsy is still to be done, but the brother is intimating that Kinkade basically took his own life by purposely drinking non-stop a day or two before he died following years of struggling with alcohol abuse. At his death he had lost his wife, his kids, his health, and he was 9 million dollars in debt due to the lawsuits against him for defrauding gallery owners that he is said to have coerced into investing in his company because of religious commonality (You know, one of those “Jesus has annointed me as his ‘painter of light’ and he’s going to make you rich if you invest in my company”), but the company didn’t have a decent business plan. In the end he died a tortured “artist,” and his work is flying off the shelves, more popular with the masses than ever, but the critics are still driving in the knife. So sad.

      • aFrankAngle

        April 14, 2012 at 10:26 am

        OMG … I knew very little of this. Such a sad tale, but thanks for sharing!

  5. Joanne

    April 14, 2012 at 8:21 am

    Hi Eleanor —

    Here is a “golden line” from your recent piece:

    “…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.”

    Wow! I love the phrasing and imagery in that!…

    So interesting that you published this on the same day that the movie “Bullies” opened in DC.

    You made some great, serious points — cushioned by your always-welcome humor and sense of irony…

    Thanks for this!

    • etomczyk

      April 14, 2012 at 8:51 am

      Joanne. So good of you to drop by. I am really moved by the “morality tale” aspect of Kinkade’s death. According to his brother, whenever Kinkade drank he became a bully (“he was an angry drunk”) which explains why he lost his wife and kids that he claimed to love so much. I am fascinated by the concept that bullies begat bullies and it all starts with the harsh critical judgment we sling at each other. I am mesmerized by this person who claimed to be an artistic ambassador for Christ but his life turned out to be nothing but kitsch–imitating some of his art.

      I promoted the movie Bullies in one of my previous blogs. I can hardly wait to see it. I want it shown in every school and every house of worship. For a country that is blessed with so much, we have become so mean and so cold toward each other.

      Thanks for stopping by.

  6. imagesbytdashfield

    April 14, 2012 at 10:00 am

    Personally I’ve always been a fan of the impresionists. I have a Monet print hanging in my office and I can relate to Van Gogh’s tortured soul. Never knew jack about Kinkade and now after these recent revelations I can say I really didn’t miss much (my opinion) but like you – if it tickles your fancy then right on right on! Knock yourself out, babykakes.

    You know the old saying “opinions are like…….” and that is true. But should that cramp our style or our dreams (providing they don’t hurt anyone)? No! But help me on something here. With that Jesus statue, is someone/something taking a whiz on it or am I just still ticked about Kinkade taking a wee on Winnie the Pooh. Either scenario is wrong compounded by wrong.

    Now I shall go play the Isley Brothers “Fight the Power” 😉

    • etomczyk

      April 14, 2012 at 12:00 pm

      TD: Impressionism is my favorite form of art which is why I think I was originally drawn to the Cobblestone painting of Kinkade. Can’t say I would have ever purchased any of the other items, but as I read all of the attacks and criticism (I have more issues with his duplicitous life than I do his kitschy art), I thought to myself, there is more to this story than meets the eye. If we want to erradicate bullying amongst our children, here’s a prime example of the root of it: My opinion about who to like, what to read, what to wear, what religion to follow, etc. trumps yours just because I say so, and I will pummel you into the ground until you conform. Will we ever be set free of this, I wonder?

      You know, I thought the same thing as you about the statue. Now I’m wondering if I might have picked up an incorrect picture. I better go check again. Yikes!

      Thanks for dropping by. E

    • etomczyk

      April 14, 2012 at 12:21 pm

      TD: P.S. Oh, my God. Thanks for your sharp “artistic” eyes! You saved me from going to Hell! That was a doctored picture of someone pissing on the Jesus statue! Yikes. . .I obviously pulled the wrong pic and in my tiredness last night didn’t notice the “stream,” so to speak. Poor Kinkade, the quality of his work is debatable but it doesn’t warrant being pissed on, but then again, neither did Winnie the Pooh deserve to be pissed on by Kinkade.

      So glad you caught that mistake. I owe you one. 🙂

  7. paintingsbysondra

    April 14, 2012 at 11:14 am

    We have become a people of, to quote a phrase from Project Runway, “One day your in the next your Out” and when you’re out you get ripped to shreds. Compasion, respect, and restrait are very hard to find these days.

    Judgement is everywhere, and I am as guilty as anyone else. I understand why we were told to bring every thought into captivity. I am just as guilty, quick judgements and unkind thoughts enter my mind constantly.

    • etomczyk

      April 14, 2012 at 12:27 pm

      Sondra. You’re so right. I think the reality shows have really made this so much worse in our culture. It has made us all critics. I definitely think we should be discerning–after all, we need to be able to differentiate between beauty and ugliness, goodness and meanness, and food that tastes good and bad–but it is the contemptuous manner in which we go after each other (the next day you’re out, as in ostracized) that is the issue.

  8. notquiteold

    April 14, 2012 at 11:43 am

    I am no Kinkade fan, but hell… I used to watch “Dynasty”. And I still think I’m pretty classy!

    • etomczyk

      April 14, 2012 at 12:32 pm

      Nancy: I know, isn’t it the truth. I thought using Kinkade’s life and work was an excellent jumping off point to talk about contempt and distain which leads to bullying because I think it is at the root of so much of our problems as a society. Thanks so much for stopping by.

  9. momshieb

    April 14, 2012 at 1:58 pm

    once again you hit it on the head!
    I remember in college when everyone was raving over certain “classic” writers, and I made the horrific mistake of stating that I preferred reading Stephen King over Dostoyevski. The silence that fell over that literature class was absolutely deafening. At the time I was mortified to tears by the outrage that followed my remark. Now I’m smart enough to know that nobody in the room had a clue what that crazy Russian was talking about, and they were pretending for all they were worth!

    • etomczyk

      April 14, 2012 at 3:53 pm

      Ha! You are so right, Momshieb. Besides the fact that Dostoyevski was the Stephen king of his time, to each his own. That’s like people getting all pretentious about opera and Shakespeare when those were simply the musicals and the entertainment of their era–their TV fare so to speak. I’m still trying to get through Brothers Karamozov and I can’t get past the Grand Inquistor chapter. I don’t know what it is about that book. Thanks for commenting.

  10. becomingcliche

    April 14, 2012 at 7:36 pm

    Amen and amen. I am learning fairly quickly that life is too short to not like what I like because some “expert” says I shouldn’t like it.

  11. composerinthegarden

    April 14, 2012 at 8:20 pm

    Ah, critics. French film director Francois Truffaut was convinced that critics were really “blocked artists” – vociferous because they felt incapable or fearful of creating their own work. Attack based on fear. The surest road to destroying one’s own artistic inspiration is to care what the critics think – it can still paralyze me until I step back and let it go – very hard to do but an essential skill. How unfortunate for Kinkade – it can be a deadly trap. And commercial success is guaranteed to elicit the “critic’s revenge” syndrome. It is a conflicting dynamic that haunts every creative artist, regardless of style. I like his work – accessibility isn’t, or shouldn’t be, an artistic crime. . . though many would like you to think so. Just remember the cautionary tale of “The Emporer’s New Clothes” 🙂

    • etomczyk

      April 15, 2012 at 8:49 pm

      So true Lynn, so true, and it touches every form of artistic expression. Do you remember the story of the amazing chief of La Cote D’Or (Loiseau)? He was the top chief of France at one point and had created nouvelle cuisine but after getting a two-point dip in a gourmet magazine’s review (from 19 to 17 out of twenty), it ruined him, and he committed suicide. There are two sides to this awful story which is similar to Kinkade’s story: The harshness of the critics and the fact that neither of those men could shake it off. Since we can’t control the pens or the mouths of the critics, then we all must learn to “shake it out” as Florence of the Machine sings. It makes me wonder how much exquisite artistic expression has died in obscurity because of the callousness of critics.

  12. morristownmemos by Ronnie Hammer

    April 14, 2012 at 9:24 pm

    The expression “guilty pleasures” is true, but why should it be? My taste might not compliment yours but we are each permitted our own tastes in art, books or politics (oops: maybe i went too far there!). Whatever anyone thinks about Kincaid, he was talented. He captured a special quality of a scene. So there, NYX.

    • etomczyk

      April 15, 2012 at 9:02 pm

      I’m in full agreement, Ronnie. I’m convinced that this inability to let people “be” is the root of most evil. Thanks for stopping by.

  13. DesiValentine

    April 14, 2012 at 11:14 pm

    Love this. We have a couple of paintings above our beds, painted by complete unknowns and purchased at an open market in Jamaica. We have another couple of wood-cut prints by another complete unknown bought at a dockside gallery in Victoria. Several guests have kindly informed me (without solicitation) they’re not worth anything. But that isn’t supposed to be what it’s about, right? We’re all critics in our own way, I know, but I think when we start deciding that there is “one right way” to look at things, appreciate things, value things, and so on; that we become disconnected from simple, resonant, loveliness.

    • etomczyk

      April 15, 2012 at 9:15 pm

      So well put, Desi! I think one of the hardest jobs of parents is to help our children learn to “shake off” undo, and unwarranted, harsh criticism. It is also a parents difficult job to keep our kids from harshly judging others who have different tastes, as well. It is such a delicate balance. Thanks so much for stopping by.

  14. Lindy Lee

    April 14, 2012 at 11:35 pm

    Beauty is in the eyes of the beholder…

    • etomczyk

      April 15, 2012 at 9:16 pm

      So true Lindy Lee, so true.

  15. Maggie

    April 18, 2012 at 7:00 pm

    Brilliant, Brilliant, Brilliant!!!! Aren’t we all looking for “heaven” on earth and the facts that came out about Thomas Kincaide after he died made me want to cry! He, like so many artists, my sister included, lived a tormented life and obviously painted, as you stated, the very things he wanted but couldn’t make happen on this earth! You hit the nail on the head in this post and all I could think about was the Uncontaminated Grace that God has for us and that the people who judge you for having an opinion or an idea different than theirs are probably more tormented than the people they are criticizing. Dolly Parton whom I adore, talked about creativity in musicians and artists in an interview last week, and said that all creative people are a little crazy!! I totally agreed with her and the seriousness she showed when being ask about how she continues to write amazing songs about “life”! I personally know I am a little bit crazy and some of my most creative moments have come from that place and how I got there! This has been one of my favorite posts so far!! So enjoy that painting and all it represented then and now!!

    • etomczyk

      April 18, 2012 at 11:44 pm

      Thanks Maggie. I’ve gotten a lot of off-line feedback regarding this story, as well. It seems that the essence of it really touched a nerve in people. Appreciate you stopping by and leaving a comment. Cheers!

  16. Elyse

    April 19, 2012 at 9:23 pm

    Art is to be appreciated by the person who looks at it. Enjoy your painting. Me, in a moment of, well, auction madness, I purchased a Rembrandt etching. I was so incredibly excited. It was inexpensive, it was for my husband’s birthday and it was a Rembrandt.

    It is an etching of the ugliest guy who has ever walked the earth (Rembrandt’s father).
    Trade ya …

  17. An Observant Mind

    April 23, 2012 at 1:06 am

    And that is what art is supposed to do – evoke something in you – and of course some will detest and some will feel inspired. I agreed with you on the cubism, but I love all art – even that which I find ugly, irritating, juvinile or just plain confusing – because its art, and I know to someone else it will be inspiring and uplifiting.

    It seems that the art world is like that, deepy criticised by some but loved and lorded by others… is there any other profession where one has such a chance? I mean if you are a bad shoemaker, you’re just a bad shoemaker… but if you are a ‘bad’ artist, you can claim people just dont ‘understand’ it. Chances are, one day someone will come along and love it! Maybe I should take up art!!

    Loved this post. 🙂

    • etomczyk

      April 23, 2012 at 8:55 pm

      Hi Karyn: You really were catching up today. Were you lying on the beach, drinking rum punches, and reading my blogs? Whatever the reason, thank you so much for taking the time to read all these stories. I am so touched and so thrilled that you commented on all of them. All the best.


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