want to start this essay with the word "I" but I guess
its too late now.
One of the most
successful artists in the United States is the much-berated
Thomas Kinkade. "Successful" here meaning fame and
fortune. Kinkades company, Media Arts Group, has a distribution
network of over 4,500 dealers and is publicly traded on the
New York stock exchange. Kinkade has now opened one of his many
franchises in the Riverchase Galleria. Unlike Norman Rockwell
who was also despised by the mainstream Artworld, Thomas Kinkade
will never have a retrospective at the Guggenheim. Even Time
magazines huge spread on the Kinkade phenomena entitled
"The Art of Selling Kitsch" didnt slow the growth
of the stock or make the art buying public, usually afraid of
being considered rubes, stop purchasing these paintings and
(Post-Modernism, post Modernism, postmodernism) started to come
into vogue in the 1980s there was a hostile reaction from
the Modernist establishment. This reaction has been, for the
most part, very successful because many people still believe
that conceptual art and all the latest avant-gardeisms are Postmodern.
Conceptual art is late Modernism and no "new" kind
of conceptual art can be Postmodern except when its Neo-Conceptual,
if you can wrap your brain around that. Postmodernism is simply
the art movement that comes after Modernism. Its most
easily recognized as having aspects of plain old-fashioned painting
and sculpture and the idea of the "author" is primary.
In Modernism we have the "genius." Any scribble by
Picasso, no matter how insignificant, is considered a masterpiece
because of who did it. In Modernism the quality of the artwork
itself was secondary to its presentation. Great art was the
product of institutions. These institutions declared objects
to be art and so it was. The author was all-important. In Postmodernism
the work of art must stand on its own, the author is irrelevant.
It wasnt Rockwells uncool subject matter or uncool
ability to paint that made him so vile to the Modernists. Rockwell
was an "illustrator," which back in the 1950s
was bad, very bad. Back then, selling your work meant that people
liked it and understood it
bad, very bad. Art was only
supossed to be understood by a handful of intellectuals on the
Lower East Side of Manhattan. Anything that could be appreciated
by the masses was crass, worse, it was kitsch.
One artist who
seems to have an unhealthy obsession with kitsch is Odd Nerdrum.
Odds an odd fellow. This Norwegian painter is begrudgingly
accepted by the Artworld and has been writing about kitsch in
what is a thinly disguised defense against how many Modernists
consider his own work. Its true that Odds painting
resemble science fiction book covers, but theyre much
more sober, and lets be honest; a lot of those science
fiction book covers are pretty neat. Like Norman Rockwell, Odd
Nerdrum paints in a style that predates Modernism. Odd can be
considered Postmodern but Rockwell is more anti-Modern or rather
non-Modern because of the time he was creating. His type of
art was actually the only act or object created by man that
couldnt be considered Modern. So what about Thomas Kinkade?
The reason (I
hope) Kinkade will never be considered a serious artist isnt
his hokey subject matter or crass commercialism. The Pop artists
were unapologetically in it for the bottom line. If Kinkade
was just hocking his sappy paintings he might have a chance
in being considered just a painfully sentimental Postmodernist.
His execution is excellent. But all this "Painter of Light"
stuff is beyond goofy. In all the Thomas Kinkade galleries the
paintings, or more likely prints, are displayed with spotlights
and dimmer switches. The idea is that when you dim the light
the whites and yellows are supposed to glow. Its a gimmick
that reeks of the worst aspects of Modernism.
never be able to stomach Postmodernism in the ilk of guys like
Odd Nerdrum. Odd represents hard work and talent, not just some
inexplicable "genius." David Hockney is a famous Modern
artist whos known mostly for his photomontages and flat,
geometrical representational paintings. Hockney has written
a book and made a BBC movie both entitled "Secret Knowledge,"
where he tries to drive home the fact that Vermeer, Ingres,
and guys like that cheated and traced all their paintings. His
theory is that these old master paintings were more the development
of optics than skill. Not only are his revelations no secret
but Hockneys demonstrations of these techniques only show
that even using the same methods he cant draw nearly as
well as Raphael or Rockwell. Projected images are a crutch,
but believe me these guys could draw just fine. Another interesting
art book to look for is "Most Art Sucks" by Matt Gleason,
the publisher of Coagula. Supposedly big Hollywood interests
are making it into a movie.
I know that just
as Postmodernism is beginning to be understood, there will come
an art movement that will rise up to replace it. I also know
that Im going to hate it. As radical as the accepting
of actual painting and sculpture by the Artworld seems to the
Modernists, at least were still talking High Art. When
Rockwell is shown at major museums, its still paintings
in museums. Its still highbrow. So what comes next? If
you check out the magazine Juxtapoz you can get an idea. I can
handle that the once evil "illustration" can now be
considered art, but only serious illustration. The beast thats
going to be rearing its head in the hopes of replacing Postmodernism
is going to be lowbrow. I imagine drawings of muscular monsters
and devil girls with no aspirations toward aesthetics or enlightenment.
Modernism and Postmodernism, at least, have the same goals in
mind, but not this new breed of artists. Kids today. They might
even embrace Thomas Kinkade (shudder).