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.
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© 2014 Kendall S. Harmon. All rights reserved.
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