"Thomas Kinkade is Weak," or "Why You Shouldn't Sell Giclee Prints of Your Work"

Unfortunately, someone somewhere decided that art was intended for a specific segment of the population. At least here in the United States. Other societies don't have this problem, and it really is a problem. I have no idea if the Jesse Helms's of the world convinced the majority of the population that art is None Of Their Business and has nothing to do with them, or if it was some uppity art scene somewhere sometime, who wanted to keep the help from attending the openings. Either way, there is a gulf that exists between a great portion of the population and art.

(I mean, kind of. Museum attendance is actually huge, and most numbers show that more people go to museums--of all kinds--than to live sporting events. Over 480,000 people went to see the 1999 Van Gogh exhibition during its short, 14-week run at the National Gallery. That same year, 537,502 people attended the Boston Museum's Monet show, which was only on the wall for 16 weeks. This trend has continued. The Mutter Museum, a small medical collection of oddities and remains in Philly, has a yearly attendance of over 60,000. If you can bear look at two headed babies in jars and preserved colons that could pass a basketball, I highly recommend the Mutter for an eye opening afternoon.)

As with many things in our nation, there is a class issue involved in the divide between art in general and the general population. Art, be it in museums or in galleries or wherever, is thought to be meant for artsy types, or for people of a different social set than me or you. Hey, some people just think art is boring; I can accept that.

Enter Thomas Kinkade. Mr. Kinkade, or TK from here on, has figured out that he can sell a "painting" to almost anyone, especially all of those people who don't feel that "art" is for "them." He purposely creates images that are meant to be extremely consumable, extremely mundane. TK makes art that looks really familiar. Willem DeKooning did not. (Although, Lucien Freud does, but people are still really uncomfortable with his work. Anyhow.) TK's images are meant to manipulate. I know that seems a silly thing to say; but genuinely, his images are without content are meant to be empty enough to live with without having to consider them. Lowest Common Denominator stuff. Heart strings. Art by request. Gimmie one with a baseball player. Girl squeezing her stuffed rabbit. Soldier coming home. Norman Rockwell actually embodied narratives and social issues. TK doesn't have time for narratives. His website currently offers 15 images with lighthouses, each with an almost evocative title.

Of course, all of that is fine. There is nothing wrong with liking something because it's pretty, or reminds you of whatever. It's a big part of why reason I buy the art pieces that I do: I appreciate them aesthetically. But TK doesn't sell art. TK sells pictures of art. Cheap pictures of art. Pictures made by machines. Potentially unlimited, even though in places on his website it mentions "limited edition." Of 5000? Who knows. TK sells something a step above cutting a picture out of Life Magazine and framing it. But TK knows that the general populace are convinced that all that gallery hooey isn't worthwhile, so they've never had a conversation about the difference between a work of art and a picture of a work of art. And that will be $800, please. Unframed. Again, buy what you want to, whatever. But KinkadeCorp is sitting back and laughing. "Can you believe that these guys will pay $800 for a giant print out? Woo Hoo!" KinkadeCorp is making fools out of the unsuspecting.

That's called F#%king People Over.

A friend of mine recently worked the front line filter at a benefit Roadshow-esque appraisal fair. He couldn't even remember how many people came to the door with Kinkade prints or the equivalent, and he had to explain that the appraisers wouldn't consider reproductions. Which inevitably brought a blank stare. He had to explain that the thing they had in their hands had no monetary value, because it is neither a real piece of art nor remotely unique. "But you can see the brushstrokes." No, he had to gently insist: you can see a picture of brushstrokes. You can see a mechanically induced texture. He was emotionally exhausted after one day of that. He had the sinking feeling that for some people, this was perhaps the most expensive thing they owned, far as they knew, after their house and car. They wanted to get it down there and see how much it had appreciated in value. They were gonna be rich.

That's why Thomas Kinkade is a jerk. I think Dante would put him in the Eighth Circle, the 10th Bolgia, with the counterfeiters. Because there's nothing wrong with selling dopey images of Fenway Park or Snowy Cottages or White Jesus or whatever you want. There is definitely something wrong with creating valueless fakes and foisting them at high prices on people who don't know they're being had.

Hey, I'm kidding about giclee's of your work, up in the title. I know, I know, you might be able to sell 12 lower priced "prints" before you sold the actual work of art. But don't call them prints any more. Call them reproductions. Call them pictures of your art. (That's a lousy placard: "Buy Pictures of My Art!" On second thought, don't call them that.) Prints are hand made in an edition by you. Reproductions are made by ordering them from a printer, or by hitting the green button. Just remember that they're merchandise. Standard retail markup is 100%, so if Bob's Print Emporium squeezed you for $15 each, you should charge $30.

If you sell my granny a $85 8x10 picture of a painting: I'm gonna get you.

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Comment by tinsree on July 30, 2008 at 11:17am
carillo, maybe your joking, but to blame it on Warhol is too easy. i mean sure warhol offered up the familiar, but not in a familiar way. soup can common? sure. soup can as art? well that's challenging.
now art as a commodity? sure that was warhol's gig. i don't think kinkaid would own up to that. he would just say he is offering up beautiful art (NOT) at price points for everyone. kinkaid is selling pure nostalgia and comfort, and that's something warhol neever did.
Comment by JeSais on July 30, 2008 at 11:42am
I believe some of them are painted (a couple of actual brush strokes) onto the reproduction... it costs extra if TK himself is actually holding the brush.
Comment by Paula Manning-Lewis on July 30, 2008 at 11:44am
All I have to say is, bravo Khan!!! However, I do sell reproductions of my work, so I'm glad you added the last paragraph. I don't misrepresent them though, I am totally honest with my customers.

Comment by Paula Manning-Lewis on July 30, 2008 at 11:45am
Oh, and I DON'T sell them for $800!! You can get an actual original for that much!
Comment by Khan on July 30, 2008 at 1:22pm
Something that I had in my notes to touch on, too, but decided not to go any further on and on, was the fact that in today's digital age, a lot of art is being produced where high-end digital printouts are the original. This also needs to be taken into account, vis a vis my (hopefully gently) snide comments about producing giclee prints. If the giclee is the actual piece, then that is fundamentally, 100% different. Whatever you think about digitally output photography, for instance, I don't fault photographers who use it. That is the medium. (I think the technologies have a long way to come, but that's an unimportant opinion. A phrase which makes clumsy assumptions...)
Comment by statler and waldorf on July 30, 2008 at 1:46pm
Black nails it. Not only will this store bring some sorely-needed comedy to our beloved Nob Hill, but the nervous suburbanites who come here to pick up a paint-by-numbers Kinkade poster will have good stories to tell their children about the time they ventured to the crime-ridden center of the big city!
Comment by usemoreglue on July 30, 2008 at 2:07pm
Investigated by the FBI and sued by former dealers, TK sounds like a real peach as a person. Some choice excerpts from his wikipedia article ( with links to the original news stories: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Thomas_Kincaid )

'In August 2006, the Los Angeles Times reported that the FBI was investigating these issues, with agents from offices across the country conducting interviews.[13]

'Former gallery dealers also charge that Kinkade uses Christianity as a tool to take advantage of people. "They really knew how to bait the hook," said one ex-dealer who spoke on condition of anonymity. "They certainly used the Christian hook."[14] One former dealers' lawyer stated "Most of my clients got involved with Kinkade because it was presented as a religious opportunity. Being defrauded is awful enough, but doing it in the name of God is really despicable."[15]'
'"The Los Angeles Times report that some of Kinkade's former colleagues, employees, and even collectors of his work say that he has a long history of cursing and heckling other artists and performers. The Times further reports that he openly groped a woman's breasts at a South Bend, Indiana sales event, and mentioned his proclivity for ritual territory marking through urination.[18] Kinkade denied some of the Times's allegations, but accepted and apologized for others.[19]"'
Comment by Phil on July 30, 2008 at 2:19pm
I know next to nothing about art, but I do know that I like doing puzzles. And whenever I see a Thomas Kinkade puzzle, I always pass up the opportunity of actually buying one. I like doing puzzles and then mounting them on a nice background. So if I ever was crazy enough to want anything TK, I'd probably just drop $10 on a puzzle at Target.
Comment by Barelas Babe on July 30, 2008 at 3:11pm
Tinsree - I had a different interpretation of Carillo's comment. I connected it to Warhol's use of silkscreening and (later?) offset lithography as a way of making art available in mass quantities. I think this happened in the 60s when all the other lithography stuff was percolating (June Wayne, Ken Tyler, etc)... Best to get clarification from Rudolfo, I think.

Carillo - are you around?
Comment by Lauren on July 30, 2008 at 6:55pm
Okay, once again we're off on the "beloved Nob Hill" thing, loved for it's "diversity." I can't figure out what there is to love about Nob Hill. Oh, and I've never been to Geckos, sounds like some type of meat market place to me, but I can tell you that Scalos is vastly overrated. They have some good wines, but the food simply does not justify the prices they charge. We always figure they can command those prices because people in Abq don't know any better. I know that sounds harsh, but what can I say? They simply would not get away with it in a larger, more cosmopolitan environment with better Italian available. But hey, if people want to spend the money, what can I say? And I can't stand TK either but hey, if people want to spend the money...

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