Kinkade, Sayers, and the Fall

In his provocative article "The Dark Light of Thomas Kinkade," Daniel A. Siedell argues that Kinkade's paintings are "terrifying" and "nihilistic." He backs up his contention with this quote from Kinkade himself: "I like to portray a world without the Fall."

What's terrifying and nihilistic about that? Simply this: A world without the Fall is a world without grace.

Dorothy L. Sayers made this point over 70 years ago in The Devil to Pay, her retelling of the Faust legend. Sayers's Faustus bargains to remove the effects of the Fall from his life, but his attempt to return to the state of "primal innocence" results instead in a state of "primitive brutishness." If Thomas Kinkade had ever read that play -- particularly the following speech made by the "Judge" (Christ) in the final scene -- he might have learned something:

All things God can do, but this thing He will not:
Unbind the chain of cause and consequence,
Or speed time's arrow backward. When man chose
To know like God, he also chose to be
Judged by God's values. Adam sinned, indeed,
And with him all mankind; and from that sin
God wrought a nobler virtue out for Adam,
And with him, all mankind. No soul can 'scape
That universal kinship and remain
Human -- no man; not even God made man.
He, when He hung upon the fatal tree,
Felt all the passion of the world pierce through Him,
Nor shirked one moment of the ineluctable
Load of the years; but from the griefs of time
Wrought out the splendour of His eternity.
There is no waste with God; He cancels nothing
But redeems all.


Wow, that 'Dark Light' article was heavy stuff. I don't know if I'd go that far, because I don't know if Kincade himself had those ideas/intentions while creating his work. But it's worth thinking about.

Speaking of thinking, I never thought about Kincade's work itself very much. My quick opinion of his work is that it all looks the same. It's one thing to have a distinctive style. It's another to be doing the same things over and over again.
I'll give you a point on that last post, Gina. Some in the Christian community have embarrassed the rest of us by rallying behind crap.

I don't think you're a snob, but some of the attacks on Kinkade have definitely come from that school. (Norman Rockwell has also been dismissed by critics, and I love his work.)

What irks me and probably a lot of other people is that it isn't enough for some critics to simply explain why they dislike something. They have to resort to ridiculing both the artist and those who enjoy his work.

A person can get pretty tired of that sort of thing. The blowback you received on Facebook should probably not be taken too personally, as Kinkade fans can be understandably sensitive about the snobbishness that has targeted art that they love.
Oh, actually, I think a lot of stuff put out on the Christian market is kischy. But I do give my beneficient approval to Thomas Kinkaid.
Now that, Rolley, is art. :-)

Jason, excuse the hyperbole about "evil" -- I got accused of snobbery by one of our Facebook commenters, and I admit it made me a little touchy. It bothers me a great deal when people -- you haven't done this, I'm talking about other people -- insist that if you don't embrace every kitschy thing on the Christian market, you're therefore a snob. The thinking seems to be that if secularist critics don't like these things, it's probably just they're anti-Christian, and every Christian who agrees with them is selling out.

But if we give THAT much credence to what our ideological opponents think, then we're letting them define us.
As for whether someone "exercised their God-given talents as fully and as well as they might have", that is necessarily an unanswerable question simply because it is always possible to point to some area that could have been improved.
Though the light be dark, nonetheless it is light, for the darkness could not overcome it, but was itself overcome.

With apologies to all, especially Durer.
Beata Culpa?

Is this His architecture, then, from whence
The universe and every tick of time
Regardless how grotesquely skewed or bent
Must trace its first and ultimate design?
Is Hero-laud Creation’s fountainhead
That, to insure the hearty accolade,
Ordained before the crush of Satan’s head
Each soul must taste some of the Hell He’d made?
Was that the scheme? Or was the picture marred
Not by intent but vitiate treachery
‘Impossible’ to be reversed, not ‘hard’,
Compelling death upon Divinity?
Renown was incidental to our help
Or Love cared not so much for us as Self.

© Rolley Haggard, 2012
I am not saying either you or Kinkade are or are not an evil person and I should hardly say you are. I am just engageing in a wholesome debate which, refreshingly is less straining then some debates.
Jason, I'm not talking about the rest of the human race. :-) I'm talking about one artist and whether he exercised his God-given talents as fully and well as he might have. In my humble if tenacious opinion, he did not.

This does not make him an evil person. Nor does it make me an evil person. It's simply an artistic critique.
They required a lot more craftsmanship then the majority of the human race, Gina.

As for this: “Suppose you had never heard of Kincaid and you saw one of his paintings in a respectable art gallery,” responded my friend Steve. “Suppose you found out that Kincaid cut off his ear and died a long time ago without any money. Can you say with certainty that your opinion of his aesthetics would be the same?”

My answer would be that the first would be regretable but irrelevant and the second would be definitely irrelevant.
"Kinkade's works required a lot of craftsmanship"

Did they? This article is a bit of an eye-opener on that front:

Unquestionably, as Joe Carter says in that piece, the man had talent. But Carter also argues -- and I think he had a point -- that, aesthetically speaking, Kinkade too often took the easy way out.

And I'm far from sure that this in itself didn't show a degree of contempt for his audience.

(I used to be a fan of his myself, by the way. And I still love his painting of Christ. Because he obviously put real effort, good aesthetic judgment, and respect for both subject and audience into that piece.)
I think art may be best defined as "the application of craftsmanship for civilizational rather then survivalistic purposes." By survivalistic I mean simply such aspects of life that provide safety and prosperity. By civilizational I mean those that provide "something more". Those are admittedly vague concepts but vagueness does not in itself disqualify a concept from consideration.

Now that would mean in fact that I think that the minimum for me to respect an artist as an artist is for them to 1) show good craftsmanship, and 2) accept that the judgement of his product will lie in it's recipients, including posterity. By 2, I mean that iconoclasm or deliberate philistinism cannot be called "art" no matter what profound message it purport to convey.

Admittedly this is a vague definition and it begs the question,"Are fashion design or cooking art?" To which the proper response is,"They can be; cooking at least has been considered an art in many countries and there is no reason fashion design cannot be." "Are role-playing games an art?" To which the answer is "Yes, they are in essence a type of folk-theater(not a game by the way; nothing wrong with games but RPGs are theater not games). "Are video games an art?" Answer: "Yes they are and they might be better if they were treated as such. Or they might not, considering all the blarney about art having a message and entertainment not being a proper message." All of these practices, when treated rightly can certainly give innocent pleasure and can even uplift the spirit. I have even imagined a time in the future when traveling RPG groups would perform for nobles at feasts.

Kinkade's works required a lot of craftsmanship and gave pleasure to the audience. He certainly did not hold his audience in contempt.

Furthermore if we criticize art for not taking the Fall into account, is there any doctrine that does not make disqualify something from being "Christian art". Why not say that the only real Christian art is illuminated copies of the Nicene Creed?
I *do* try to say something worthwhile and/or profound now and then, to offset my frequent nuisance comments. But alas, dear G, my tastes in art run toward black ducks, so I got nuthin' here.

Feel free to call me "dethPICable" if it would help.

Shucks, I'm so artistically illiterate that I thought "Mona Lisa" was a masterpiece. (And doggone it, *another* incredible woman of Italian descent; how can *one* nationality produce so *many* . . . ah, well, a thought for another time.) "Mona" says nothing whatsoever about original sin - unless that's something to do with how she lost her eyebrows. ;-) And Michaelangelo's "David", the self-portrait by Rubens, most of the work of Botticelli, Caravaggio's "Basket of Fruit," all those portraits by Rembrandt - they say nothing about Original Sin, yet I have always been told they were great.

So I don't get it. I figured sometimes art could simply capture idealized beauty, making us wish that the Fall had never happened, and making us long for the end of time itself, when the effects of the Fall will be behind us. Sorry I can't be more help here.

Oh, but lest I forget:
Wow, I think Siedell is reaching. Is there really something wrong with a painting of an old-fashioned town or a beautiful nature scene? If it's not mucked up with a little ugliness, it's not worthwhile art?

By that standard, a grisly show like Law & Order: Criminal Intent had more merit than did beloved, wholesome programs, since the latter didn't take us into the "black pit."

Without Kinkade's remark about the Fall (which is being judged perhaps a bit too harshly) what basis would there be for seeing evil in the lack of evil in his paintings? If we try to do something nice--be it through art, or an act of kindness--are we living in denial of the Fall, or aren't we just trying to make the best of things while we're here?

Kinkade's paintings provided a little oasis in a world that can certainly use it. I'm hard pressed to see how that's such a bad thing.
Kinkaid is beautiful and gives pleasure to it's audience. Therefore it is good art.

As for whether it is good Christian art, grading one's creations on doctrinal purity is clearly a way to go about good Christian art.
But that line was written by someone who I think would have agreed with Siedell on this one. The question here is not one of escapism; it's a question of what makes good art -- or, to be more specific, good Christian art. I'm pretty sure Lewis would have said that ignoring the Fall doesn't do it.
Mr. Siedell could remember that the one's who worry most about escape are jailors.

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