Final Touches On A Fantasy World

Dogwood Chapel-Thomas Kinkade

If you know my tastes you’d probably be able to guess that I don’t own a Thomas Kinkade painting.  It also probably wouldn’t surprise you that many people assume that, as a pastor, I would have one.  In fact, when they think of a pastor’s office, most people imagine three things:

1.) A large bookshelf

B.) A tear-stained couch

iii.) A Thomas Kincade painting…
of a dusky country church…
bursting with light…
from revival happening within.

It’s also no secret that many pastors imagine that their congregants have a Thomas Kinkade painting as well.  Sales figures indicate that 1 in 20 American homes features a Thomas Kinkade painting, the numbers significantly higher when you factor in self-identified “Christian homes.”

This shouldn’t be surprising since the self-proclaimed “Painter of Light” made his mark on the “art world” through a shrewd, if not calculated, strategy to target middle-aged Christian consumers – marketing his work through Christian conferences and retailers.

As a follower of Jesus, Kinkade didn’t just market his products to Christians, he also made the things that Christians hold dear the subject of his paintings: churches, family homes, and patriotic scenes were lovingly portrayed in bucolic and romantic settings… enveloped in the warm glow of “God’s light”.

Christians loved him, while art critics loathed him.

While he was accused of pandering his “mediocre abilities” to a “taste-impaired” target audience, this didn’t stop him from being one of the most collected artists of the 20th century.  Kinkade was celebrated as a genius by the community he created for, and his fans weren’t interested in whether the critics liked it… Imagine criticizing Stephanie Meyer’s prose to a 16 year-old.

As time passed, critical revilement turned out to be one of Kinkade’s lesser issues.

Thomas Kincade’s real problems emerged as national fame brought a bright spotlight onto a dark life he struggled to contain.  In his final years, attempts to maintain his commercial empire in the face of alcoholism, public misconduct, and a deteriorating marriage took a sad toll on not only his sales, but his reputation as well.

His death this month, and the legal battle between his wife and girlfriend, now bring to light everything Christians don’t want to believe that their heroes are capable of.

Critics deride his work as “saccharine, representational, sentimental and heavy-handed with Christian imagery…” but isn’t that also a fair description of the image of Kinkade that Christian’s want to believe in?

Would Christian bookstores have carried his paintings if the public knew the truth about his struggles?

Would Christians have recommended his work to their friends?

Would they still have found his work less inspiring had they simply stumbled across it?

This post isn’t an indictment of Thomas Kinkade’s failures as a Christian.  In truth, each of us struggles to put to death the “old man” once we come to our New Creation Life in Christ, so to kick at the failed body of Kinkade while his soul finally finds fulfillment in the arms of his perfecter is beyond tasteless.

This post is however an indictment of “Christian tastes” and the efforts made to indulge them.

All taste is developed over time.  Children don’t initially care for coffee or mustard, but through exposure over time, they become adults who learn to relish the complexity of  bittersweet and acrid flavors.  This ability to “acquire taste” gives us benefits beyond the palate, since we gain the ability to eat nutrient rich food that we wouldn’t consume without  such growth.

Adults force children to eat foods they do not like because humans will die of scurvy if they only eat chicken nuggets and corndogs.

This is also true of “taste” in regard to art.  Ask a child if they liked a certain book or movie and they will tell you “yes” or “no” based on the content that they experienced.  If the good guys won, or all of the animals made it home safely, then the child will like the product that they evaluated.  No consideration is given to the technique or the craft involved in the creation of the media.

Isn’t this also true of many Christians?

If Kirk Cameron puts out the fire or withstands the antichrist while remaining faithful to his wife, then the movie was good.  HOW and WHY these things happened often seems to be irrelevant to an audience who clamors for the content to be agreeable… as opposed to authentic or realistic.

This means that “Christian” product is most often a depiction of nobility and virtue, created by people of alleged nobility and virtue.

Unfortunately the Christian life isn’t accurately represented by prolonged periods of virtue and nobility, punctuated by moments of interruptive sin and villainy.  It’s actually just the opposite.  None of us are fully noble and virtuous this side of the grave. My struggle to find wholeness in Christ isn’t bucolic or idyllic.

It’s painful,

frustrating,

embarrassing,

and

humbling,

yet filled with the beauty and wonder of God’s love, mercy, and grace.

As a piece of art it’s messy, confusing, and not entirely filled with moments that I’m proud of, yet it is authentic… and that accuracy of content, in the hands of my Master Sculptor, is what makes it relevant to every kind of human.

The extremely narrow tastes of Christian consumers is not just what produces fantasy paintings, it also makes demands for “fantasy painters” who pander to our content rich desires at the expense of realism.

Thomas Kinkade’s flaws don’t disprove or “slander” his Christianity, they simply illustrate his need for it.

Kinkade painted a fantasy world for people who needed to believe that fantasy is attainable. He did for Christians and non-Christians alike (his work on Disneyland is actually quite apropos) but truthfully, sin and darkness cannot be ignored.

To do so actually makes righteousness out to be a fantasy.

We actually can attain the righteousness of God in Christ, but it takes being honest enough to acknowledge the bitterness that offends the immaturity of our palette.

The repentance that flows from the acknowledgement of our own darkness, frees us from the demands of people who would rather turn a blind eye to our faults so that they can consume a fantasy us, as opposed to being consumed by the real Christ.

6 Responses to “Final Touches On A Fantasy World”

  1. Sharon O April 25, 2012 at 1:08 pm #

    Incredible truths you share in this writing.
    So much is sad about his life, even though he was gifted in many ways. Good thoughts for us to consider thank you for another wonderful challenge.

  2. Kimberly Kyllo April 25, 2012 at 1:28 pm #

    Intentional, authentic, real and humble….pretty sweet combo! BRING IT LORD!! You should youtube these sermonettes… FOR REAL~ :)

  3. Jeff Patterson April 25, 2012 at 2:07 pm #

    Well said.

    It seems that whenever we use “Christian” as an adjective we leave the Gospel behind, preferring commerce more than grace.

    • Luke April 25, 2012 at 4:00 pm #

      Yup, “Christian” = “safe.”

      • Kimberly Kyllo April 26, 2012 at 11:50 am #

        and the funny thing is…Jesus was SO scandalous! Washing feet in his tighty whities, letting a woman of the night wash his feet while dining with the upper class, feeding the hungry, casting out demons, dying for sinners…scandalous!! I pray we…followers of Christ….be half as scandalous~

        • Jon April 26, 2012 at 1:49 pm #

          “Washing feet in his tighty whities” awesome.

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