America's most popular — and richest — artist died in California on Friday at age 54. But unless you're an aficionado of kitsch, you may not have been familiar with Thomas Kinkade. He made many, many millions by painting pictures that deftly catered to mass tastes but caused outbreaks of aesthetic hives in those who look to art for something more than syrupy sweetness, corny theatrics and unnatural scenes of rural bliss.
The Middlebury College Museum of Art presented a sampling of Kinkade's work in 2009, with curators proceeding from the premise that his popularity warranted thoughtful appraisal. The nonjudgmental approach did help illuminate the reasons why the self-styled "painter of light" was so successful in market terms. But Kinkade, who actually functioned more as a corporation than as an individual creator, was a terrible painter in the ways that matter most. The organizers of the Middlebury show surely knew that, and their unwillingness to say it seemed disingenuous.
Image courtesy of Middlebury College Museum of Art for Seven Days' review of "Making Sense of Thomas Kinkade."