Gregory Wolfe: Art in a Fallen World

Posted by Kendall Harmon

To those who questioned the prettiness of his paintings—their too-good-to-be-true sentimentality—he had a theological answer: "I like to portray a world without the Fall." A retort to that statement would be that faith itself teaches us that a fallen human is ill-equipped to imagine an Edenic world—and that in any case our task in life is not to look away from the sin-scarred creation and dwell on an ideal world but to look for grace and redemption in the midst of the mess we've made.

It's an argument I've made myself, in an essay criticizing Kinkade's aesthetic. Yet I am still forced to admit that he raised a valid question about the purpose and meaning of art. After all, Western art in many ways starts with the Greeks, who made ideal beauty, with its glimpse of divine perfection, the hallmark of their culture. Doesn't seeing the world as it ought to be elevate and enlighten us, offering us a small respite from the darkness? That's precisely what so many have found in Kinkade's art: a powerfully nostalgic longing for the way it ought to be, a break from the daily grind and the thousand disappointments that drag us down.

Read it all.

Filed under: * Culture-WatchArtReligion & Culture

7 Comments
Posted April 20, 2012 at 3:00 pm [Printer Friendly] [Print w/ comments]



1. Jim the Puritan wrote:

The only thing I will say about Kinkade is that I went though a period of depression in the Nineties when all sorts of serious problems developed in my family and in my work situation at the same time.  One of the things that really comforted me and cheered me up during that dark period was buying several books showing his paintings, mostly of cottages and idealized small town and church scenes.  I used to spend a lot of time looking at those pictures and thinking of a time when things would get better.

April 20, 3:42 pm | [comment link]
2. Paula Loughlin wrote:

For me Kinkade’s art does not show the world as it ought to be.  His work does not portray an Edenic world.  To me the light in his paintings remain a cold artificial light that does not present a glow of hope and peace no matter how profuse it is.  The light does not have as its source the author of all beauty.  Its purpose is to blind us to flaws not to illuminate virtues. 

instead of making us turn to thoughts of God and the realization of His works amongst us and the mystery of the Incarnation (which I would argue is the purpose of Art when seen from a Christian aesthetic) Kinkade’s paintings draw us to a false light.  There is nothing that is appreciated and celebrated for its own beauty in his art; rather the flowers, the trees, the paths, the rivers are there to make us believe it is the false light that makes things beautiful.  His paintings lack grace. 

This is not Eden, this is stage craft.  Artifice is not beauty.  I think it is sad that so many have forgotten what true beauty really is and believe that Kinkade’s vision is a homage to it.

April 20, 5:12 pm | [comment link]
3. Stefano wrote:

Paula said it very politely and very well. I would not have been so kind. Such sentimentality and false decoration is not art and in fact is a blight. Kinkaide’s paintings deserve to be forgotten for they intrude on the blank space that could be filled with beauty.

April 20, 10:42 pm | [comment link]
4. Todd Granger wrote:

Well put, Paula.  You are familiar with Simcha Fisher’s article on Kinkade as an anti-Incarnational painter?

http://www.ncregister.com/blog/simcha-fisher/whats-so-bad-about-thomas-kinkade

April 21, 12:50 am | [comment link]
5. Paula Loughlin wrote:

Yes Todd and he put to words much of what bothered me about Kinkade’s art.  The sad thing is that Kinkade’s earlier work are very fine examples of California Plein Air.

April 21, 1:04 am | [comment link]
6. Paula Loughlin wrote:

Jim,
I am glad that you found comfort in Kinkade’s work.  I did not mean in any way to call that into question.

April 21, 1:09 am | [comment link]
7. Jim the Puritan wrote:

Paula—No worries, no offense taken.

April 21, 1:19 am | [comment link]
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