Monthly Archives: November 2008

Eli Loves the Beach

Since we have family in the Florida panhandle, we’ve spent Thanksgiving week at the beach for years now. Eli’s been coming since before he was born, and in the past he’s not thought much of the beach. When he was a year old, he didn’t like how the sand felt under his feet. When he was two years old, he would dig in the sand, but he preferred more interesting hobbies like playing indoors and pestering his grandparents. Last year the water scared him, and that was before I told him about sharks and jellyfish and the Undertoad that was waiting to drag him to a watery grave — you know, the kind of thing all responsible parents tell their kids. I figured this year would be the same.

Eli splashes in the ocean

It’s been around 65 degrees F (18 degrees C), but the Gulf of Mexico waters have been around 50 degrees F (OH GOD THE COLD IT BURNS degrees C). That doesn’t deter Eli. He dashes in, splashes around, and runs back out before doing it all again. Worse, he demands that we all come in with him. We can tell when he’s been in there too long because his chattering blue lips are covered in snot. See? The beach is healthy!

I’m excited that Eli has learned to love the beach. I’ve been coming down here for over 25 years, and the smell of salt water, the sound of the surf, the feel of the sand beneath my feet, all relax me. I had worried that Eli wouldn’t enjoy it at all.

I’m so glad I was wrong.

Eli draws Es in the surf

Thomas Kinkade, Art Director of Cheese

You may not be familiar with Thomas Kinkade, Painter of Light™. Much of what you need to know can be summed up by him trademarking the phrase “painter of light”. He paints bucolic scenes, often of cottages that glow as if on fire, using a soft pastel palette. He also is frightened of hard edges.

Foxglove Cottage, by Thomas Kinkade

Kinkade’s work is especially popular in my evangelical subculture because of his unabashed Christian faith and his sentimentality. The paintings themselves doesn’t bother me. They’re inoffensive sofa art, a commercial commodity and delivery vehicle for bucolic blandness. Kinkade’s paintings fill the same niche for a lot of people that Norman Rockwell’s art did, even if he lacks Rockwell’s eye for capturing life around him or his social conscience. You might as well make fun of Wonder Bread. I’m far more bothered by how he runs his business. Kinkade and his company use Christianity as a selling point. Presenting the chance to run a Thomas Kinkade gallery as a spiritual and religious opportunity is odious.

That’s why I’m a little surprised to be defending him. Did you know there’s a Thomas Kinkade movie? Neither did I. That’s because Thomas Kinkade’s Christmas Cottage ended up with a straight-to-video release. Vanity Fair got their hands on a memo from Kinkade to the crew listing sixteen guidelines for creating “The Thomas Kinkade Look”. The guidelines include darkening corners of the film for a self-described “cozy” look, simplistic color changes to match scenes’ moods, and a shallow depth of field (mis-described as a short focal length) to blur the background.

They’re not very good suggestions, but it’s not surprising to see a painter with a specific style giving tips better suited to his paintings rather than film. If you’ve not worked in a given medium before, you’re more likely to use cliché elements. In college, our drama and communications department collaborated on a short film, with one person from each department helping direct and produce. At one point the theater guy asked, “Hey, in this scene, where Jane’s roommate is talking to her, can we have the roommate talk directly into the camera so it seems more real and urgent?” He knew a lot about blocking and staging but little about film and TV conventions.

So hammering on Kinkade for confusing depth of field with focal length and giving art direction that is reminiscent of 1960s porn may be fun, but it’s silly to do so when there’s so much insipidness you could be laughing at instead.