Daniel Siedell wrote a piece recently critiquing Thomas Kinkade’s work. He basically raked Kinkade over the coals for not being enough like Dostoyevsky. My take on the article is that Siedell thought that the absence of pain, the absence of evil, the absence of the Fall failed to allow any sign of grace to shine through all that light. I suppose he has a valid point, but does all art have to mirror Dostoyevsky or someone like Flannery O’Connor for it to be considered grace-filled?
A clue might be in a quote Siedell attributes to Kinkade: “I like to portray a world without the Fall.” This appears to come from a Christianity Today article from 2000. You can read more of what he says there.
The beef with this statement from Kinkade is that is not the world we live in. And for that to be a goal is a misrepresentation of the truth. But Kinkade also says: “The world is very dark, but in heaven there is no dark.” Unfortunately, that brings up another problem: his paintings are not about heaven. They deal squarely with the scenes of earth.
Two questions: First, should we be concerned about an artist’s theological purpose if it is contrary to the way the Bible relates the world to us? Second, is Kinkade guilty of some sort of artistic heresy that we need to stamp out?
The answer to the first is yes—if the artist is intending to speak as a believer in Jesus Christ. His purpose should match up with Scripture, and this is irrespective of what we might think of the art. So does Kinkade break any theological rules? As long as we know and are aware of his purpose: fantasy, can we not then move on to whether or not it is good art? Tolkien wrote, in my opinion, a masterful work called The Lord of the Rings. He explicitly said that it was not meant to be an allegory—many have ignored these words and gone on to show how Christian it was. It may have been, but that was not his purpose. His purpose was to create a fantasy story, complete with other gods, other creators besides the creator God of the Bible. Whatever we think about the quality of Kinkade’s work, in purpose, is it different than Tolkien’s?
The second question is not so easy to answer because it involves all the people who love his work, and there are lots of people who love his work. But why do they love it? Do they need to love it only if it reveals the biblical concept of grace? Or is it ok to love it because it makes them feel good? Ultimately, our creations should point others to God. And when fallen humanity sees God, the Bible indicates that one of two responses is typical: “Woe is me for I am undone!” and “Oh the depth and riches and wisdom and knowledge of God!” The response in various grades is either despair at our own condition or praise and adoration at our changed condition.
If Kinkade’s work draws us to heaven, and in the scenes of everyday life, we get glimpses of what life will be like: a present shadow—ironically achieved with light—of our future reality, then he is not guilty of such a vile act as Seidell accuses him of. If, however, his viewers are drawn to what might be here on earth, are made to loathe their existence here based on what they think their earthly life should be like, are left more focused on their own failures instead of God’s glory, then we should be more cautious in praising his work.
But that is an individual experience, is it not? Are we to become thought police for everyone who reads Dostoyevsky and sees only despair and never grace and then accuse Dostoyevsky of avoiding grace? I haven’t surveyed the landscape on what the Kinkade lovers see in his work.
For me, however, what Kinkade brings up is nostalgia: the idea that times used to be better. And that is patently untrue. Man has always been fallen. Man has always been depraved. Man has never been happy and comfortable in his cottage by the lake in static reverie. That is not to say that we consistently wallow in a joyless existence either.
So my take: if all the art you imbibe is Kinkade-like art, you are not getting a complete diet of art. It would be like eating sweets all day. And if we do that, we will enjoy the taste to our detriment and eventual death. So have some Kinkade if you like that sort of thing and it turns your eyes to heaven, but don’t forget your body’s—your soul’s—need for someone like Dostoyevsky.