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.

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