“I Killed Thomas Kinkade – Kinda”

We never met. I liked his work. Cutesy pictures of dreamy homes with lights blazing inside as a graphic depiction of warmth. Feel good pictures. Why would I help kill this artist? And how? I made many videos with implicit and explicit criticism of Thomas Kinkade’s many paintings of houses.

 

I think I first encountered Thomas Kinkades art in Parade Magazine – the insert that came with something once called the “Sunday Newspaper.” The back page of Parade had a Christmas toy train set that featured Thomas Kinkade’s house paintings on the sides of box cars and on the caboose. What kind of a town would have such a train circulating around I don’t know. But perfect for a little Christmas village someone sets up on a table in their house to compliment a Christmas tree. Holiday snacks can be completely sugary.

 

A different week and a new way to see Thomas Kinkade’s art on the back page of Parade Magazine came when I saw commemorative plates offered to collectors. What artist hasn’t dreamed of becoming a limited edition plate set from the Franklin Mint? I found out Thomas Kinkade had produced ‘paint by numbers’ kits so people could craft their own visions of houses on fire. The Kinkade company began to set up numerous franchises around the country to sell numbered Kinkade prints that some assumed would go up in value.

 

Why not. He produced images that people could instantly recognize and a happy feeling of warmth. His work would have looked startling an new around 1800. But why should he have to fight for a place in Art History? His company was even listed on the New York Stock Exchange and the stock started high. But as people began to have ways to sell his works online and see verified prices, the value of his work plummeted. The frames were often worth more than the picture of a house.

 

I started to find Thomas Kinkades pictures online and make slide shows. The colorful works look good in a ‘pan and scan’ video. I added different songs and made a dozen videos on Thomas Kinkade. I used a cover version of the song “Art for Art Sake” from 10CC. I found a version of Carole King singing a Monkees song she wrote “Pleasant Valley Sunday.” I wrote a short article about the worth of Thomas Kinkade’s art entitled “Thomas Kinkade – Collectible, or Dust Collector.” I made one video with an audio lecture about “Art since World War Two” to illustrate how out of touch Kinkade’s plodding realism seemed in modern graphic arts. I made one video with just a laugh track. All good fun. Why would a millionaire artist care what some low level videographer posts on Youtube and Dailymotion? It never occurred to me that Thomas Kinkade would see a video about his work on Youtube, or Vimeo. But, maybe he did. Who else was he going to look up?

 

But then I read that Thomas Kinkade had died. He had fallen back into a habit of drinking too much alcohol. His family said he was depressed. At one point he was running through his neighborhood yelling and drunk. Was he watching the numerous videos online making fun of his work? Did he see any of my videos poking fun at his fake cozyness? Anyone who puts their work in front of the public and accepts applause and praise must also be ready to accept boos and catcalls of criticism. All the money he made did not make him any happier than Vincent Van Gough who could hardly sell a handful of paintings and ended in the care of an asylum. One hundred years after his death, people pay millions for Image work, will people be looking at Thomas Kinkade’s work one hundred years from now?

The Butterfly and the Tank

I wanted to read a short piece from Hemingway to have a story to go with a fireplace video.  I never saw much politics in the stories Hemingway wrote about the Spanish Civil War of the 1930’s.   He was up close as a war correspondent, and had open sympathy for the Leftists fighting for some version of worker and popular control of society through direct democracy and cooperation.  But, I did not see much about Leftist ideas in some of his stories in “The Fifth Column” and other stories of the Spanish Civil War.  I read the shortest.  “The Butterfly and the Tank,”  seemed like a throw away piece that Hemingway phoned in to meet a deadline.  I thought nothing much happened in the brief story.  But, having recorded it and put it on a video with a fire place, and put it on Dailymotion, Youtube, and Vimeo, I heard the story again and again.  I thought of how many times I had been in bars having political conversations.  Just as in the story.  Some rough men over react to a foolish gesture in the story.  As I listened I realized who they were.  Stalinists.  I’m not sure if Hemingway realizes who he describes as the shooters in the bar, but they fit the description and work at the airport when Stalinist ruled Russia was the only country ‘helping’ Leftist Spain with ‘experts’ and secret police agents. 

The stories grew out of Hemingway’s experience in the Spanish Civil war as a correspondent for the North American Newspaper Alliance and as a participant in filming a pro-Loyalist/Leftist work “The Spanish Earth.” This story and others grew from adventures in and around besieged Madrid–particularly in the Hotel Florida and in a bar called Chicote’s. The book is notable for the dominating presence of the author, who is to be found alive on every page. That presence slants the focus, this is immediate, unmistakable Hemingway.

The experience behind the stories was pretty much actual. There is a question as to how autobiographical fiction differs from autobiographical journalism–the best, that is, of the dispatches the correspondent filed from Spain, which were reprinted a couple of years ago in “By-Line: Ernest Hemingway.” The answer is that the difference lies more in quality than kind. As good as some of that correspondence was, all four of these stories are better than any of it.

Hemingway was such a good reporter that he could reveal the truth of why the Spanish Left was defeated – even though Hemingway worked with the Stalinist Communist Party.  He was honest enough to write simply about what he saw.  Some urged him not to report a bar murder in a Leftist area because “bad news hurts the struggle.”  He taught me a lesson he may not have learned himself.  What kind of Leftist leaves revolutionary Cuba and goes to Idaho to hide from the FBI?  One who escaped at the end of a shotgun.   Requescat in pace et in amore. 

“Come Back to Erin” – 1914 – Gene Gauntier

A movie made one hundred years ago ‘on location’ in Ireland, and crossing the Atlantic on a steam ship. The song is “Ben Bolt” one of the most popular songs of the late 19th Century and widely known across the English speaking world. The words speak of the memory of a young woman who has died, at a time when far too many young women died far too young, like our own time. A haunting melody.

Seamus Heaney Digging

A famous poem by a wordsmith.