The Kinkade Crusade
"That's so the viewers can imagine themselves into the scene," says Sanders, his assistant.
Despite their stylistic differences, both Kinkade and Rockwell provide glimpses into a world that is not surreal (as with some forms of modern art), but unreal. Kinkade's landscapes invite the viewer, in the artist's words, to "imagine a life where there is plenty of time, plenty of energy, plenty of opportunity for everything you feel is important—plus a little left over for some things you simply enjoy."
His paintings provide shelter, a kind of enwombing. The space Kinkade portrays is female space, characterized by interiority. There is nothing angular in his paintings; the lines are soft and rounded and inviting.
This art is quintessentially evangelical not only in its populism and use of Bible verses, but also in its interiority. Just as evangelicals emphasize an inward piety over outward forms—"invite Jesus into your heart"—the light in Kinkade's paintings has been tamed and domesticated and internalized.
The art of Thomas Kinkade offers an oasis, a retreat from the assaults of modern life, a vision of a more perfect world. Who wouldn't like to catch a glimpse of that world from time to time, to picture life before the Fall?
But we live and move and have our being in a fallen world, and it is our lot as human beings to negotiate that world. Kinkade's paintings furnish little guidance for that enterprise (other than to remind us that goodness and beauty once prevailed on earth), but that may be too much to ask of any artist. Although viewers can imagine themselves in Kinkade's paintings—cross-legged in front of the campfire, meandering through luxuriant gardens, sitting down to a Victorian Christmas dinner or cozying next to the fireplace—they still stand outside the frame. Despite the artist's evocative talents, Eden remains elusive—even, I suspect, in the Kinkade village under construction in Vallejo, California.
Randall Balmer is the Ann Whitney Olin Professor of American Religion at Barnard College, Columbia University. Oxford University Press released the third edition of his book Mine Eyes Have Seen the Glory in November.
Photography by Media Arts Group
See today's related Christianity Today editorial, "The Artist as Prophet | What is Christian art, and what does it look like?"
Kinkade was named the National Bible Week spokesperson of 2000.
View some of Kinkade's scripturally-inspired paintings.
Kinkade worked with World Vision to offer a free print to people who sponsored needy children.
Read World Vision's Today magazine interview with Kinkade.
Previous Christianity Today articles by Randall Balmer include:
Hymns on MTV | Combining mainstream appeal with spiritual depth, Jars of Clay is shaking up Contemporary Christian Music. (Nov. 1, 1999)
Still Wrestling with the Devil | A visit with Jimmy Swaggart ten years after his fall. (Mar. 2, 1998)
Hollywood's Renegade Apostle | Unless films like The Apostle succeed, other worthy motion pictures stand little chance of being produced. (Apr. 6, 1998)
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