Art, Artists, Bigotry, Hate...

and the Legacy of Thomas Kinkade

America is a marvelously diverse land. I know this firsthand; I've crisscrossed our great nation again and again over the past four decades and have spent time with all kinds of people with all kinds of backgrounds, educations, preferences, and perspectives on life. One the most important art lessons I've learned through it all is that everyone has their own personal tastes... which brings me to the art of Thomas Kinkade.

Even eight years after his death, many among the art world's anointed still have no hesitation about expressing their disdain, derision and outright hate for his art, stated with complete disregard for anyone's feelings but their own. The funeral hadn't even happened yet when high-art highbrows started mercilessly skewering virtually every aspect of this man's life, art, and career. Now I'm well aware that there's hardly anything "fine" artists and art people love to hate more than a successful artist, especially a commercially successful one, but the sentiments expressed in Kinkade's case went way beyond that.

Artland's more arrogant denizens took this man's demise as an opportunity to lash out not only at the artist himself, his art, and the millions of people who cherish it, but also at pretty much anyone else on the face of the planet who might happen to like art that's different from the art these aesthetes have christened in their arcane cabals to be the authentic real-deal 100% bona fide McCoy. But that's not all. They also expect "their art" to be the only art we're ever supposed to acknowledge, appreciate, and revere. Nothing else is art; everything else must be endlessly denigrated.

That's right. We're talking genuine intolerance and bigotry here, almost as if the exalted are decreeing to the rest of the world, "Our art is the right art and your art is the wrong art. In fact, your art is not even art, and your artists are not even artists. How can you possibly like what they do? How can you be so ignorant and uninformed?"

Fortunately for us, these ultra-cultured arbiters can deliver we the lowly and misguided know-nothings from our obliviousness and misery. They can help; they know what we lack and what we need. All we have to do is listen and learn as they shepherd us to artistic salvation. They know that by gifting us with the opportunity to experience their art on their terms, and by permitting us to listen with earnest uncompromising supplication as they enlighten us, that we will ultimately bask in the brilliance of their privilege.

We will have no choice but to yield to their preeminence while simultaneously realizing the pathetic folly of our uninformed ways and our wretched tastes in art. According to these hallowed connoisseurs, no matter who we are, how little we know or understand about art, what our past artistic histories may be, or what we might like now, we can always be saved. What's good and what's right according to them can be ours if we want it.

Hmmm. It can? There's hope? That's heartening to know. But in the meantime, is it OK for us to like our cowboy art, our still-lifes of fruit on table tops, our clown paintings, our religious art, our ethnic art, our street art, our kitty cat portraits, our tasteful over-the-couch abstracts, art by our town's favorite artist, or God forbid, a painting of a cozy little cottage at the end of a flower-filled path? Or is it not OK? Do you self-proclaimed savants have to weigh in on absolutely everything art all of the time? Do you have to castigate any artist who happens to make art that's different from the art that you venerate, and render the same verdict on all those who appreciate it as well?

Or is it OK for other people to like other art? Do you mind much if we like the art that we like just because we like it even if we know less about art than you do, maybe even much less? Do you have to trash our favorite artists up, down and sideways? Do you have to dance on their graves even before they're buried in them? We can only hope you'll be so kind and generous as to allow us to keep on appreciating the art we already enjoy. We love our Thomas Kinkade's. They make us feel good every time we look at them. They add joy to our lives. They really do. What's so horrible about that?

Taste is a personal thing and so are plenty of other inalienable rights and privileges that we Americans enjoy, including the ability to appreciate whatever art we feel like appreciating for whatever reasons we appreciate it. Nobody knows why we like the art we like. We like it. Isn't that enough? So why don't we just go ahead and give each other permission to do that? And in the meantime, let's give props to all those artists who have achieved success in whatever realms of art or "not art" they've achieved it in, whether we're thrilled about it or not.

Sadly, the prejudice and rhetoric puked up by certain sectors of the art world seem not only sanctioned, but even condoned in ways that are simply not appropriate or even permissible in other areas of our lives. Can you imagine people speaking openly and with the same imperiousness about what's right or wrong with someone's religion, ethnicity, gender, beliefs, political views, or social status the same ways they do about art?

Where exactly does this imprimatur originate? What entitles you to be so righteous about "sharing" your opinions on what's wrong with our eyes even though we never asked? Don't you think it's just a little much? What is it about your art that's so essential for us to know, understand and kowtow to anyway? Here's a thought-- give it a break. You enjoy your art; we'll enjoy ours.

As for you artists who still occasionally partake in Kinkade pile-ons or who have no qualms about trashing other art or artists you've got issues with, take a moment to think about all those people who happen to live their art lives well outside of your sanctimonious culture zones. Each and every one of them has their own favorite art and artists. They may not be your favorite artists, but they're artists just the same. Artists just like you.

Perhaps the time has come for us all to consider the bigger picture, to acknowledge and respect all artists for their uniqueness, talents, and skills. And to be thankful for how each in their own way makes existence on this planet just a little bit better not only for themselves and their inner circles, but for every last one of their fans and followers as well. Rather than continue to pollute and fragment artland with your venom because you think you know best, maybe instead acknowledge the universality of art. And maybe while you're at it, celebrate all artists everywhere who dedicate themselves and their creative impulses to enriching and enhancing the quality and meaning of our lives.


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