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.