Saturday, April 7, 2012

painter of what?

So Thomas Kinkade, the "Painter of Light," has passed into it. I'm afraid I always thought of him as the "Painter of Buildings on Fire." The strength and intensity of the light pouring out of his windows generated but one reaction in me: Get a fire hose! A strong one! Quick!

If you could tear your eyes away from that spectacle, the surrounding lush flower-bedecked landscapes were pretty, but were so neat and verdant that they appeared somewhat artificial, the same way the imaginary lands in a Tolclone novel feel artificial. What they remind me of more than anything else are the kinds of tourist guides to England or European countries written by rich self-centered Americans who see the country as an unpopulated (there are no people in Kinkade's paintings, either) historical theme park preserved for their private enjoyment.

In the traditional postmortem activity of finding the silk purse in the sow's ear, Kinkade is being lauded for having given many people a lot of pleasure. And it is true that he did. But on that account we should eulogize porn stars on the same basis. Do we?

One thing I can tentatively praise Kinkade for, though. I have never seen any of his originals up close, and, unless you have, it's difficult to detect this feature clearly in reproductions. But Kinkade took Norman Rockwell as his master, and I have seen Rockwell paintings in person, and however corny they may be, know this: up close, the overwhelming impression given by a Rockwell painting is his absolutely awesome mastery of draftsmanship. It's sheer joy just to gaze at his lines and the details they convey.

Many, even most, canonical great painters don't have that level of that kind of mastery. Their paintings break down on close inspection. The impressionists tried to make a virtue out of this, but most painters are, beyond a certain zoom level of detail, just sloppy. And unless that painter is an absolute master of large-scale vivid imagery - Van Gogh, whose work I saw in person not long ago, is a good example, and his paintings look better the further back you stand - I'd rather see the work of the great draftsman (or -woman, but I don't know enough painters to give an example).

As I said, I can't tell from reproductions if Kinkade had Rockwell's detailed drafting skill. But I think that maybe he did. And if so, that earns my admiration.

No comments:

Post a Comment