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December 13, 2005

Dueling Light-Painters

Donald Pittenger writes:

Dear Blowhards --

"Envy is not a family value."

Hmm. That sentence sounds almost like a familiar bumper-sticker -- might make a bumper-sticker itself.

I can't prove this, but I strongly suspect that people in the art scene who have a "Hate is Not a Family Value" bumper-sticker on their car (or would have one if they weren't car-less in New York City) turn deep shades of green at the mention of almost any artist who manages to earn big bucks from his trade.

Consider Thomas Kinkade.

Or even speak his name at the next Po-Mo gallery opening cocktail party you attend: I hope you get out alive.

For any Blowhards readers who never venture west of the Hudson, north of Spuyten Duyvil or east of Flushing, there are Thomas Kinkade galleries or galleries featuring Kinkade's paintings and reproductions in upscale, semi-arty malls and shopping areas all across the country. I wouldn't be much shocked to learn that sales of Kinkade keep some of the smaller independent galleries afloat.

Kinkade styles himself "Painter of Light," claiming kinship to the 19th Century American landscape painters whose work was labeled "Luminism" by historians (see here and here for more information). He was born in 1958 in Placerville, California, studied art at the University of California, Berkeley and graduated from the Art Center College of Design in Pasadena. After a stint doing animation backgrounds at Ralph Bakshi Sudios he began selling paintings via galleries and became astonishingly successful.

On the personal level, Kinkade married his childhood sweetheart and fathered four daughters. He is deeply religious and has used his art for charitable fund-raising. For artsy-intellectoids, what's not to hate?

Here are some examples of his work:

Gallery of Kinkade's art

Kinkade - Coblestone Bridge.jpg
"Cobblestone Bridge"

Quiet Evening.jpg
"Quiet Evening"

New York Fifth Avenue.jpg
"New York, Fifth Avenue"

The best-known works are the twilight village scenes with glowing windows but, as can be seen above, he also paints occasional city scenes. And he does landscapes. Of the paintings shown, I prefer the New York scene.

In the art business, as in any other business, success breeds competition and imitation. One painter of glowing windows to emerge on the scene is Russian artist Alexei Butirskiy, born in Moscow in 1974 whose work I've seen in Carmel-by-the-Sea.

His paintings include:

Gallery of Butirskiy's art

Butirskiy - A New Day.jpg
"A New Day"

Butirskiy - Cafe Luminar.jpg
"Cafe Luminar"

Butirskiy - Evening Lights.jpg
"Evening Lights"

I happen to prefer Butirskiy's art to Kinkade's. This is because Butirskiy's images are sharper and I've never liked paintings made from a series of dabs as is the case of Kinkade or, for that matter, many Impressionists.


What interests me here is the problem of evaluating any popular artist.

I don't like the reflexive negative reaction of the Art Establishment to popular, financially-successful artists such as Kinkade, Maxfield Parrish and Norman Rockwell.

So far as I'm concerned, nearly all Establishment-anointed Post-Modern art is pretentious or silly, if it can be called art at all (more on this in future posts). This means I don't take Establishment criticism seriously. But I also have to guard against being reflexive myself, trying to like what they hate.

Although I admire Kinkade for his personal qualities that seem all too rare in today's art scene, I'm not fond of his art. This is because, as I just said, I don't care for Impressionist dab-style painting.

I could accept perhaps one or another of his urban street scenes if I viewed it in isolation. Confronting a gallery full of assorted Kinkades is too much to take, however.

To earn a living, a professional artist usually hits on a personal style that appeals to a certain number of buyers. So I often find that exploring a gallery exhibiting or featuring one painter's art makes me tired of seeing the same old thing from one painting to the next -- this isn't just a Kinkade problem.

Only a superior artist can populate a gallery with paintings that, while stylistically similar, are individually and collectively compelling. For instance, I've found this to be true for the work of Pino, who I consider superior, but not necessarily great.

In conclusion, to me the financial success of an artist or his popularity in middle-class America are not factors when evaluating or appreciating his art. And it bothers me that success and middle-class popularity seem to be considered -- implicity, if not explicitly -- by many establishmentarians as strong reasons for denigrating artists and their work.



posted by Donald at December 13, 2005


I don't much care for Kinkade's work either, but if people like and want to buy it, knock yourselves out (although, the New York scene wasn't so bad. But in general, it's a bit like extra sugery frosting on a cupcake. And people like cupcakes, right?)

I was at the MFA in Boston this weekend looking at a little pop art exhibit. I asked myself, "if I didn't know this was so-and-so, would I like it or think it's good?" I think the answer is no, and yet, I could appreciate many of the pieces as cultural or artistic artifacts, if you see what I mean. Those campbell soup cans are not painted very evenly and the color is a bit dull, up close. But what do I know?

Posted by: MD on December 13, 2005 10:44 PM

Oh, it's too bad someone can't recreate that experiment where a scientist submitted a fake article to a post modern journal and it got accepted! Send some famous pop art made out of cardboard boxes to art critics who don't know who it is......ah, who am I kidding. They'd like it. Have there been any hoaxes that have caught people out? Although, even if you hoaxed them, they'd just say that was art too! Huh. Seems like Kinkade is the best way to poke those types in the eye.

Posted by: MD on December 13, 2005 10:51 PM

M: a special delivery. You're right, they'd loved it.

Posted by: Tatyana on December 13, 2005 11:21 PM

Thomas Kinkade may be a good guy, but as in all other fields of endeavor, you need to separate people's personalities form the way they do their jobs. Pino's work is only good if you are looking solely at technical painting skill; otherwise, it is vapid. You may disagree, but the only reason I am writing to you is that I would like to offer you a few names of really incredible painters which I think you would greatly enjoy, if you like realism (like I do!).

For contemporary painters, check out Dan Gerhartz, Nancy Guzik, Rose Frantzen, Susan Lyon, Scott Burdick, T. Allen Lawson, Morgan Weistling, Richard Schmid, Howard Terpning, Mian Situ, Huihan Liu, Christopher Blossom, and Glenn Dean.

For great painters of the past you may or may not have heard of, check out J C Leyendecker, Frank Brangwyn, Dean Cornwell, Joeseph Clement Coll, Rockwell Kent, Valetin Serov, Cecilia Beaux, Joaquin Sorolla, Anders Zorn, Abram Arkhipov, Isaak Levitan, Antonio Mancini, Giovanni Boldini, Edwin Austin Abbey, Howard Pyle, Frank Schoonover, Howard Chandler Christy, Ilya Repin, Nicolai Fechin, Herbert Dunton, Maynard Dixon, Ernest Blummenschein, Walter Ufer, John Singer Sargent, E M Hennings, etc. You won't regret it!

Posted by: Brian Minder on December 14, 2005 12:26 AM

These are two guys, LA Knight and EL Cortes, who have reminded me of Kinkade. I like them. They are "pretty" and commercial, especially Cortes. Why are they "better" than Kinkade? Why do they remind me of Kinkade? A kitschy and sentimental use of color and light? My favourite works in this vein are by Gauguin before Breton 1885-88, still an impressionist, but using unusual strong color choices.

Boy by the Water Click on painting to expand;this is one of the works that made believe Gauguin was a genius. The touches of bright white, blue on the path, it is maybe not supernatural like some Van Goghs, merely perfect yet inexplicable.

Louis Ashton Knight

Edouard Leon Cortes

Posted by: bob mcmanus on December 14, 2005 2:38 AM

I don't like either a whole lot, but the rural Kinkade scenes are cute. They remind me of the backgrounds from fantasy-adventure computer games I played growing up like King's Quest V and VI. I don't think that in 100 years they'll be viewed as mere historical curiosities like much (but not all) of the stuff in the basement level of the National Gallery's East Building.

On Kinkade's commercialization of art, meh, big deal. Doesn't mean everyone else will be forced to. In fact, most Establishment uses of art pervert its purely aesthetic nature too: using it to show membership to the cultural elite and to one-up the neighbors in decorating one's walls. Recall Max von Sydow's character from _Hannah and Her Sisters_ protesting to some wannabe culture vulture, "I don't sell my art by the yard!"

However, in fairness to Contemporary art, one of my favorite "art" pieces is one of those interactive-installation dealies that used to be on exhibit at the Hirshhorn (last time I went, they said they took it out of rotation!). It was a mobile printer that navigated a grid on the ceiling and at intervals discharged a sheet of tracing paper. The paper was so thin it took awhile to float to the ground and was easily blown this way or that. You had to wade through the pile on the ground.

What's so great about that? Guess who loved it to death -- little children! They were simply entranced by following the printer's course, watching the paper's unpredictable downward dance, and rushing to catch it like a butterfly. They'd do this until hauled away by their parents... it was so beautiful, the look of wonder and joy on their faces as they hustled here and there! Especially considered against the background of the too-serious or too-pretending-to-be-not-serious stuff that fills the Hirshhorn. That actually got across the "enjoy the simple pleasures" message more than the Kinkades. Kiddie-friendly modern art -- who knew?!

Posted by: Agnostic on December 14, 2005 4:02 AM

Thanks, Donald, for your continuing series on underappreciated painters/illustrators, etc. For someone like myself, with only a casual interest in painting/illustration, it's a real eye-opener to "discover" that there is so much worthwhile art out there that has been overlooked or minimized by conventional art historians. (Before you eventually compile your articles into some kind of book, which you should do, maybe 2 Blowhards could create a link that would group them all together to create an ad hoc on-line "book" of alternative art history?) I especially like two recent artists that you brought up, Axel Gallen and Alexei Butirskiy, and was amazed at all the great "unknown"/forgotten illustrators/painters that you've discussed previously.

While I don't really dislike Kinkade, his paintings miss out with me for, I think, two reasons.

1) I think paintings should be in some way "complicated" -- have things in them that make you enjoy viewing them more than once or twice -- and his paintings seem to me (although I may be missing something) to be too simplistic. (Some of the first paintings/illustrations I ever remember liking were in the endpages of the "Goldenbook Illustrated Dictionary" [?]. They were four scenes of a small farm settlement during the four seasons -- done in a kind of Grandma Moses folk style. It was so much fun to see all the changes that occured over the four seasons: how the pond became an ice skating rink in winter, etc.)

2) Also, while I enjoy fantasy in art, I think the fun of art is basically for the artist to communicate or "say" something about the real world. While I think good fantasies can communicate something about the real world, it seems to me that the Kinkade fantasies that are shown are too far from the real world and too one-dimensional. (Yes, it would be nice to encounter such and such a house in such and such a setting, but how would it be to really live there? Perhaps these fantasies could benefit, at least as far as I'm concerned, from a little more intrusion of reality -- a TV antenna?; a parking pad?; etc.)

I think this "failure" also comes through in the one New York scene that you show. I couldn't enlarge it but, from what I could see, it looked like a painting of Fifth Ave. looking south from in front of the Hotel Pierre. While some of the glamour looks "real life," Fifth Ave. seems overly wide and the "Plaza" in front of the Plaza Hotel seems too small. To me (and I belive to many others) an important part of the "gloriousness" of this area (at least before it was greatly lessened by the replacement of the Sherry-Netherland Hotel with the GM Building) are the proportions of the street and the Plaza, both situated next to the openess of Central Park. So the real proportions are very important.

Also, at first glance, the painting seems to be of a scene set in the 1920s or 1930s -- because of a seemingly antique car in the foreground. It's hard for me to see, but it looks like there are more contemporary -- 1950s? -- cars in the background. But, in any case, given the fact that Kinkade was born in 1958, this scene seems like a fake fantasy that was concocted "second-hand" rather than a distillation and communication of a reality that was observed first hand. (Maybe such a street, with such proportions, would work better, as far as I'm concerned, if it were an accurate illustration of a proposed public works project. The proportions of the street do seem unusual and pleasant -- just not the wonderful proportions of the real scene.)

Posted by: Benjamin Hemric on December 14, 2005 11:31 AM

Thomas Kinkade's pictures give me considerable pleasure. Popular art can be good, and even inspired (although of course it usually isn't). Considered on its own merits, and putting aside issues about commercialism, I can appreciate Kinkade's work as worthwhile on its own level.

"Painter of Light" may be merchandising hype, but Kinkade does bring a sensibility of his own to the canvas. I'd call him a painter of dreams, or perhaps a painter of the afterlife.

Am I serious? Yes. According to many messages from the deceased transmitted through mediums, at least one stage the soul goes through after leaving the earth plane is like an idealized version of the physical world. There are buildings, trees, rivers, streets, all the phenomena we know daily, but in an infinitely more beautiful form because made of a higher, more etherial grade of "matter." (The Theosophists call it the Summerland.) This, too, we eventually pass beyond, but it offers rest and spiritual renewal after the travails of this world.

Kinkade seems to offer "pictures of perfection," which some of us would like to create for ourselves after our passing. (Spirits tell us that we do, actually, manifest the forms of the afterlife mentally.) Many of his paintings suggest the sweet winds and diamond-like colors of a heavenly landscape. To critics who say that Kinkade packages nostalgia, I would agree; but his technique raises it above kitsch. It's an honest visionary past that almost everyone whose youth is over longs for at times.

Nostalgia, yes: but at the same time as it's a purified and refined past, it's also a nostalgia for the future, for an otherworldly bliss.

Posted by: Rick Darby on December 14, 2005 11:49 AM

Kincade's work is on prominent display in many funeral homes, I've learned through unhappy experience.

Sympathy and remembrance cards often feature his paintings.

Posted by: Shouting Thomas on December 14, 2005 12:10 PM

I dont care if artists make money, more power to them if they do. I loathe Kinkade's painting on its own merits, or lack thereof. His work is treacly and garish and hollow, IMO. It offers nothing but some kind of vague reassurance that somewhere out there, there is a wonderfully fantastical place where we can nestle into, probably with a warm fire and an understanding deer peering in through our kitchen window. Of course, that is exactly what his millions of fans love about his work, my parents included. Nothing wrong with that, but there is also nothing wrong with the artistic establishment loathing his work for the very same reason.

Another problem I have with him is the way his "limited edition" prints are marketed. My parents, God bless 'em, have purchased 3 or 4 of these at around 3 grand a pop, with the assurance that the price will go up as soon as they are sold out. However, they seem to keep making them. It's quite dishonest and takes advantage of people with little to no experience in art collecting.

Posted by: the family man on December 14, 2005 1:28 PM

I'm enjoying all these postings, many thanks. I'm less enthusiastic about the paintings per se than I am grateful for the info, and for your argument that the contempo-art-worlds should show some interest and respect. Couldn't agree more. I'm halfway comfy in the contempo-gallery world, enjoy some of the work, and semi-"get" a fair amount of the babble and jargon that supports and justifies it. But I'm often shocked by their exclusiveness and their conviction that 1) theirs is the only "real art," and 2) nothing else is really worth finding out about. They're an amazingly un-curious (and often self-important) group of people. I tend to take it for granted that there are many different visual-art worlds, and that in each one there are talented people, influential people, frauds, etc. There's a golf-art world, a magazine-art world; there's illustration and design (each with many subcategories); there's photography, commercial and otherwise; there's set design and costumes, etc. I'm not at all sure that one is more "real" than any other, or how such a case could be made. And certainly a couple of these arts worlds are realism and fantasy. Who's to say that 200 years from now people won't think our best artist wasn't a book-jacket-designer, or a skateboard-decorator? I can't predict the future, but no one in the self-proclaimed "real art" world can either.

Besides, my own real hunch is that in 200 years no one will be thinking about the past anyway. So why not sit back and enjoy the many shows that we have?

Posted by: Michael Blowhard on December 14, 2005 4:21 PM

At this very moment the C.M. Russell Museum in Great Falls, MT, is featuring an exhibit of Norman Rockwell Saturday Evening Post covers. Everyone loves them. They've been put down by "serious" critics but lately I'm told there's a new "serious" trend that praises them. Still, Norman Rockwell and many other commercial artists (such as John Clymer, who has also been accused of "Kincaidism" or sentimentality) have found a home in what began as "cowboy" or Western art.

I recognize on Brian Minder's list Schmid, Situ, Schoonover, Fechin, Dunton, Dixon, Blumenschein, Ufer, Hennings as familiar names among the Western painters, as is Pino. Others are illustrators like Rockwell (Cornwell, Kent, Pyle, Terpning...) I admire most of these people and the ones I've known in person have all been nice enough, with a few exceptions, who have busy lawyers preventing people like me from pointing out their warts. But none of these people paint in this sweet, repetitious style of Kincade. Probably the best comparison in the Western context is Beverly Doolittle and her "puzzle" paintings -- pinto horses on snow among aspens and birch so that one doesn't see the "real" subject for a few minutes. She's sold zillions of prints and has had these things put on dishes, same as Kincade.

When the Cowboy Hall of Fame in Oklahoma City first opened (Sixties), the director, Dean Krakel, needed a lot of high quality Western art in a hurry. The Cowboy Artists of America were just forming then, so they made an alliance: they would show as a group at the Hall once a year and the Hall would offer purchase prizes to the best. The first show was remarkable -- everyone was dazzled.

The second year the show was just as remarkable -- in fact, it looked the same as the first year. The guy who painted cowboys on horseback in yellow slickers painted another one, the guy who painted a cowboy sitting along a bit of ranch equipment painted another one, and so on. They painted very similar pieces because that's what sold. Even Charlie Russell was obliged, when a rich customer said he wanted a painting "just like" another he'd seen somewhere, to come through. That's how he made his living. If he got "off topic," he lost sales.

It was along in there somewhere that the big money guys realized they could park money in contemporary paintings without getting stung. It became a mantra that if someone had invested in Remington, they would get a better return than they would if they'd invested in stocks and bonds. The result has not been better Remingtons -- rather there are many phony Rems and Russes wandering the world.

Another bit of commercializing was going to prints, which opened up calendars, date-books, greeting cards, etc. Not much cost to any one item, but zillions in accumulated sales. "Little guys" love to accumulate small stuff that isn't too expensive, with the idea that they can sell it for a profit if they have to. The Great Falls Trib classifieds often have on offer Bev Doolittle prints for hundreds of dollars. I always wonder if they ever sell them.

An interesting website for researching all these guys is, but they only do Americans and some Canadians. Maybe someone else has a database on Euros.

Prairie Mary

Posted by: Mary Scriver on December 14, 2005 4:54 PM

As one making their first foray into the blog-o-sphere, I just wandered in.

Let me see if I follow this.

There are artists like Thomas Kincade who appeal to a broad market. They supply that market with digitally reproduced "limited edition" prints of their original paintings. Those original paintings are available and sold for substantial prices to collectors with larger budgets. Certain art magazines publish articles about these artists.

This is art that appeals to most of those posting comments. There is a strong connection to commercial art, graphic design, and so on.

However, there are over there are the Po-Mo Conceptualists. There is a market for their art. They have their fans and supporters. Their aesthetic and marketing practices operate on a different wavelength.

But they're mean, old, arty-farties and they need to nicer to the artists WE LIKE!!!!!

I'm an art geek who can blow as hard as the next guy.

You can't have it both ways. You can't mass produce highly popular, sentimental images (virtually the dictionary definition of kitsch); market it adroitly; then turn around and complain that you want what THEY've got, too.

Posted by: Chris White on December 14, 2005 6:08 PM

Chris -- Hey, thanks for stopping by. The blogosphere's a gas -- here's hoping you get hooked.

Po-mo Conceptualism is fine with me, fond or not-fond though I am of any individual works, artists, or styles. But the academic/media po-mo conceptualist artworld claiming that it and only it represents Real Art isn't so fine with me. Nor is their snobbishness towards the many other artworlds. They'll strike whatever attitudes and make whatever claims they want to, of course, no matter my opinion. Though why shouldn't they be nicer to the many other art worlds? Would it do the world any harm? And mightn't it possibly do the academic-media artworld a bit of good to show a little interest and respect for visual cultures other than their own?

Posted by: Michael Blowhard on December 14, 2005 6:23 PM

I deal with a group of abstract painters who feel the same way. I know photographers who feel the same way. This goes on and on.

The "academic-media artworld" covers Rockwell Kent and Parrish and Wyeth, etc. They cover Pollack and Warhol.

In short, there's no THEY there.

Posted by: Chris White on December 14, 2005 6:47 PM

Not really. It's no different than someone looking at a Pollock and proclaiming "my kid can paint better than that." Only that's as far as that person can go in criticism of a Pollock, whereas a typical art critic or member of the art establishment (whatever the fuck that is) can go on and on (for better or worse) about why they don't like Kinkade's work. For my money, I appreciate the latter's form of criticism.

Posted by: the patriarch on December 14, 2005 7:00 PM

Chris -- I'm not sure I can agree that there's "no THEY there." That's a little like claiming that there's no such thing as a "literary-writing establishment," isn't it? It certainly isn't a cabal, yet one does exist.

I've met a good number of establishment (as in NYT, MOMA, and Artforum) artworld types, and my impression was that they were real, strangely enough. The curators, editors, gallery owners, and foundation people really do exist. The critics I've known often disagree, but they all know just which galleries are interesting and just which artists to watch.

I've liked many of the establishment-art people I've met, and I've enjoyed a lot of their work. (Is there a better name for this set, btw?) But I've gotten the impression that many of them really do feel that they and only they really know what's what. Because, after all, they've been to these schools, gotten those grants, been reviewed in these places, landed those positions, and have read about each other in all the best mags, etc etc. And these are the schools/grants/mags -- and the only ones -- that count.

So yeah, I think there's an exclusive country-club feeling to some of the establishment-art world. It tends to think of itself as the Ivy League, and the rest of the visual-arts worlds as ... well, barely worth thinking about. As a gallery guy, you don't run into this attitude? I'm surprised.

I agree though (and feel relieved) that there are establishment/artschool types who are less this way than others: West Coasters, for instance, often seem funkier and more open than the NY crowd. Younger people often don't seem to be as snobbish and hierarchical as many older types are. And outfits like the many art fairs -- Outsider, Af-Am, Affordable Art, prints, etc -- have helped open the art world up some, which is great. It isn't as hideous a situation as it was back in the '70s, god knows, at least not from where I sit.

Posted by: Michael Blowhard on December 14, 2005 7:07 PM

Any critic/curator/gallerist/ artist has a given set of criteria that they apply to what they see and how they respond. Certain styles go in and out of fashion within groups and from one group to the next. Over time, a rough consensus develops in the larger, broader "art world" and in the public mind regarding the relative merits of different artists and styles.

To those, for example, who appreciate Pollock, who discern his compositional strengths, innovative and subtle color usage, exploration of the technical attributes of newly developed paint technologies, etc., it is, half a century after the fact, mighty tiresome to still have to listen to the old "my kid cando that !" dismissal again and again, too.

And many abstract artists feel exactly the same way about The Art Establishment as Kinkade types. But, as I point out to them as well, you can't have it both ways.

"You're a stuck up charlatan! That stuff you like/show/sell/ talk about isn't real art! The Emperor has no clothes! My art is great! Love me! Buy me! Honor me!"

Lest I give the wrong impression, I have fairly diverse aesthetic interests. I enjoy Rockwell Kent; I appreciate Wyeth (although I slightly prefer son Jamie to Andrew); I like Christo and Andy Goldsworthy; I think there are more than a few intriquing conceptual artists out there. I like landscape painting. And sound sculptures.

That said, the list of artists, styles, 'movements' or whatever that compete for Official Art World attention within (or, depending on your perception, from without) that Official Art World is nearly infinite and constantly mutating. With the (possible) exception of whomever the current Top One Hundred Brand Name Artists happen to be, nearly everyone and their supporters think they aren't getting enough respect. Or money.

Posted by: Chris White on December 14, 2005 7:58 PM

What it comes down to is money -- the rest is chatter. When Moran landscapes sell for millions, Moran is suddenly respectable. When Terpening sells for hundreds of thousands, he gets respect. When Charlie Russell paintings sell for millions, his "experience" in Paris with the Expressionists suddenly surfaces.

A citizen who can write a check for art (and in the Western art market they rarely write a check -- there's a lot of horse-trading and bullshitting) gets respect. He's no longer an industrialist, he's a patron.

Consider that Cheney is on the board of the Buffalo Bill Historical Center. What do you suppose a conversation with him about art might be like?

Prairie Mary

Posted by: Mary Scriver on December 14, 2005 8:58 PM

Gee. I write this innocent little post (heh, heh) and come home from a hard day at the office to find bits and bytes and pixels all over the floor of the blog.

Let me start my Comments replies by thanking Chris White and Michael for that nifty exchange -- a civilized business as is the norm here at 2Blowhards.

Chris -- I hope that you continue to read our blog and pitch into the Comments box whenever it suits you. While we tend to think that Modernism and its sucessors often fall short of expectations, we're more than willing to engage in discussions regarding the matter.

Moreover, Friedrich von Blowhard (I suspect) and I (for sure) are interested in the business of art, and contributions from a real Gallery Guy are especially welcome.

That said, on to other replies.

MD -- I was at the Gardner museum in Boston for the first time in July '04 and was frustrated that some paintings had no label. I later discovered that this was intentional. Sorta sounds like what you had in mind.

Brian -- Thanks for the list of artists. I'll Google on the ones I'm not familiar with. If you play around with the blog search thingy on the left-panel, you should be able to find posts I did about illustrators, etc. Actually, Just key in my name and scroll down once a list of my posts turns up.

Oh, and I'm already working up posts on Levitan and Serov whose work I saw in Russia in September.

The matter of "vapid" you brought up is interesting. What is vapid and what isn't? Aren't some genres (landscape, portraiture) largely "vapid" by their nature? I should do a post on this: thanks for tossing in the idea.

Bob -- Thanks for the tips.

Agnostic -- But was the Hirshhorn thing art, or simply a toy?

Benjamin -- One of my biographical sources on Kinkade mentions that the "playfully" adds bits to his paintings such as a sign on the Lourve for a sold-out Kinkade exhibit. As for the 5th Ave painting, I'm having trouble with the tall, pointy building towards the center of the picture. I just can't remember any building like that being in the upper-40s or lower 50s on the west side of the street. You know the city lots better than I do -- any ideas?

Rick -- And then there's something that might be called "false nostalgia." When I was a kid I really wanted to experience the 1920s college scene that happened 15 years or so before I was born.

Michael -- A while back I mentioned that just because I feature one artist or another, it doesn't necessarily mean that I like or approve of their stuff. As I said in the post, I'm not fond of Kinkade. And let me add here that, even if I had the money, I wouldn't buy Butirskiy's stuff either.

Kinkade interests me because he's hugely successful, even having (franchised?) Thomas Kinkade Gallery stores around the country. Few artists can claim anything like that. Plus I'm interested in the gallery biz as an indicator of art trends as measured in cash and how much the market is driven by fashion, investment potential or simple pleasure. So this post is one piece of a conceptual mosaic I'm struggling to construct for myself. Hope Blowhards readers don't mind.

Mary -- Interesting comments about Western or Cowboy art. I've been aware of the genre, but haven't followed it closely though I do on occasion buy a copy of Art of the West. And for some time Situ has been on my to-write-up list: his technical skills are incredible.

Patriarch -- Agreed that reasoned criticism is better. Don't hestiate to pull our chain if we veer too far in the "my kid could..." direction.

Posted by: Donald Pittenger on December 14, 2005 9:01 PM

An aside about the Gardner Museum; the goal at the Gardner is to allow the visitor to see pretty much what they would have had they been a guest in her home rather than a more didactic museum approach, thus the lack of labels.

You say, "Kinkade interests me because he's hugely successful, even having (franchised?) Thomas Kinkade Gallery stores around the country. Few artists can claim anything like that. Plus I'm interested in the gallery biz as an indicator of art trends as measured in cash and how much the market is driven by fashion, investment potential or simple pleasure."

Yes, in fact, it is a franchise. He ruffles feathers among some art types for reasons similar to why Walmart ruffles feathers among local small businesses. In most of the towns where there is a Kinkade Gallery at the Mall, there are dozens of local artists, including plenty of representational, even kitschy, artists, struggling to get someone to buy their work. Many are arguably as good (or better) aesthetically, even technically. And instead, folks are shelling out serious money to get a digitally reproduced Kinkade print.

Other art types may be able to appreciate his specific technical facility, but find that is nowhere near enough to make it compelling art; I am in that camp.

For an interesting perspective on the overall subject of art as a market, a pair of economics professors tracks the art market as one would the NYSE. Art actually does a bit better than stock. You can find them at Mei Moses Fine Art Indices.

Posted by: Chris White on December 14, 2005 10:07 PM

I have a couple of comments for some of your posts.

Mary, money isn't really the true denominator of great painting. In the future, many of the crummy, highly priced works will fall out of favor and the good works recognized and valued accordingly. Contemporaneous interests like politics, art world trends, etc. fall away. It just takes time. Sometimes a lot of time, but it happens. And in the end, money is just the measure of what it takes for a work to change hands. It is silent about the real value of the work, as it should be. You should count your blessings here. If good work is neglected and cheap, snap it up! Commit some sort of painting arbitrage.

As far as Modern or Contemporary art is concerned, Most people don't care about it and neither do I. I used to get upset, as many do, about how seriously people took the work and how much money it attracted, while great realist work was ignored and/or sold for much less. But the more I looked into realist painting, both past and present, the more I realized how irrelevant this issue is. I just have no time or desire anymore to to consider such silly work, when a HUGE amout of great realist painting is out there to be discovered and appreciated. If you see the good realist work, you know the Modern stuff is just worthless, no matter how much attention and money is paid for it. Same with Kinkade.

Before anyone here tries to clobber me for that opinion, you should also know that I paint a lot and am fairly good at it. And you gain a much different perspective on painting if you do it a lot. You both admire technique, but learn how to look past it, and you understand the desire of a painter to paint portraits or landscapes rather than large colored squares. People paint portraits and landscapes because they have feelings or emotions about people and places that they are trying to capture. Yet doing so in paint is VERY difficult and the people who can actually capture it are rather rare. The chase is really fun though, especially if you can share it with other painters! The colored square crowd would rather move this process onto a peice of paper (the artist's statement) rather than deal with the incredible difficulty of doing it with paint. That's their loss. There is nothing better than to be out on a beautiful day trying to capture it in paint with other good painters. You can have your sterile modern architecture, ugly studios, and ugly thoughts. I myself prefer the fun stuff.

Donald--by vapid, I mean that a painting has utterly failed to convey the feelings of the painter to the viewer (this of course assumes that the artist had some real emotional motive to doing the work in the first place). I see Pino as a "professional" painter who chooses sentimental subjects and cranks them out as fast as he can to make commercial sales. Many "professional" painters do this in order to make a living because only a certain percentage of their paintings sell. In addition, a large percentage of the sales price winds up in the gallery's pocket (usually 30 to 50%), and then the tax man takes a huge chunk of what remains. There are also modelling fees, framing, art materials (not cheap), and shipping expenses back and forth to galleries and shows. I will not call today's painting purchasers patrons. They only buy a painting here or there, and turn the painter into a piece worker. A real patron would support a painter far more diligently and regularly. You may disagree with the idea of someone doing this for a painter, but that is the definition of a patron. These people are buyers, not patrons.
One of the reasons you see such vapid work these days, even from intelligent, highly skilled painters is because this piecemeal purchasing policy exists. You get very conservative about subject matter when you have to sell to survive (with Modern art, the opposite is true, but its just as stifling. What if you want to promote a conservative Christian perpective with colored squares? Sorry, no luck for you, pal. Such is the proce you pay for being part of the avant garde!).

In fact, many of the living painters I mentioned are masters of the sentimental subject (even Howard Terpning is sentimental, but in a native american mythologizing sort of way). They are, however, to a person, incredibly skilled. In the art shows and contests, this is the main criterion for winning shows. I just hope that somehow some of them will take a chance and break out of it, so we might again be able to see great skill combined with a deep, realistic, depiction of the human journey (as we saw in the Renaissance). I remain optimistic about this. Some in the past have done it, and it will be done again! Thanks for reading.

Posted by: Brian Minder on December 14, 2005 10:31 PM

Those first two Kinkade pieces are just hideous (I've seen them before in other contexts), I really fail to understand how you can like art and not see what's wrong with them. They don't capture anything like the complexity and interest of a real, actual outdoor scene by a river at sunrise or twilight (if that's when they're supposed to be, I really can't even guess the time of day or night for the first one -- the level of light in the sky is wrong for the clues in the foreground). The colors are fuzzed out pastels with nothing like the real glow and detail of a twilight scene when you are actually in it. The vegetation is fuzzy and uninteresting, the houses are lazy cutesy things that look like cartoon illustrations from a hobbit village. I'll bet I could take a digital camera out in upstate New York on a summer evening and get something better in 15 minutes, and I'm not a good photographer. The guy doesn't have a vivid or interesting eye or imagination, and doesn't seem very technically gifted either. During the golden age of popular sentimental art I'll bet he would have been kicked out of art school; comparing him to Maxfield Parrish or Norman Rockwell is a joke. Those guys could be rather trite and sentimental, but they had drive, energy, some originality, and actual real technical gifts. Parrish in particular these things are true of.

And on Campbells soup cans -- Andy Warhol was a genius and a great artist, although he was a conceptual artist.

Posted by: MQ on December 14, 2005 10:53 PM

On "what's wrong" with people liking the worst of Kinkade -- the same thing that's wrong with all bad art. He degrades you capacity to understand and appreciate the complexity, depth, and beauty of the world. Either you think art is important or you don't; if you do then bad art is a bad thing.

And bad art isn't about the opinions of some self-elected taste elite, it's about whether something is a cheap falsification of the world or not. Take a walk by a rural river on a summer evening, open your eyes, and really look. Then open your eyes and really look at Kinkade's representation of same. That should do the trick. No need to read Artforum.

Posted by: MQ on December 14, 2005 10:58 PM

OK, final comment: lumping Kinkade in with the impressionists obviously far worse than the Parish comparison. Or pre-impressionists: look at Turner for the astounding things that can be done with "dabs".

Posted by: MQ on December 14, 2005 11:01 PM

MQ -- Please read what I said about Parrish, et. al., more carefully. I lumped them together in the sense of being popular and financially successful, but in no other way.

Nor did I claim that Kinkade was even a "superior" artist, his having failed the gallery test I described.

And the Impressionist comparison had to do with brushwork. I don't like "dabby" Impressonists (for example, Monet's Rouen Cathedral series) and I don't like Kinkade for his "dabbiness" either. But my dislike of that brushing technique does not mean that I necessarily consider Monet and Kinkade equals as artists.

Posted by: Donald Pittenger on December 14, 2005 11:31 PM

Chris -- I'm not sure what your point is. That schools, individuals and approaches who have gotten no attention or respect from the media/academic art establishment have no right to complain? That seems an odd argument. Why shouldn't they bitch about it? In my experience, the media/academic art establishment (we really should come up with a snappier name for it) is almost as close-minded as the literary-writing world, which is really saying something. And in any case, at this blog we aren't artists complaining about getting no attention. We're amateurs and fans who want to take part in a broader discussion about the arts (not just visual) than the mainstream outlets generally conduct. Hence we yak about car design, Texas rock, ads, TV, food, sex, graphic design, the future of movies, etc. And also people like Kinkade. Our point isn't to elevate a Kinkade, it's to promote a broader, more wide-ranging and awake-to-life conversation. And, in any case, what's wrong with someone liking Kinkade? Or with someone disliking Pollock? It's a free world, no?

Incidentally, my own pref is that artists (and writers, etc) should, once they've bitched themselves out, go create their own worlds, get on with life, and not let the whole media/academic thing bug them too much. That said, I'd also like to see the academic-media establishment open its eyes more to the many art worlds out there. There are people who paint "portraits" of golf courses -- some of them are really good. There's a flourishing marine and nautical painting world -- ships at sea, that kind of thing. The field is competitive and has its stars, who btw do very well for themselves. Sports-team visuals and TV graphics are very dynamic and striking these days. But when was the last time the Times, for example, did a piece about the standout talents in these fields, or even acknowledged their existences? You'd think they'd at least be curious. The NY and museum-centric gallery-art world is a very tiny piece of the general visual culture. I dunno, sometimes I think it'd just be best to ignore it. As these worlds lose their grip on opinion and judgment, they're likely to wither away, if not completely then in terms of influence. They'll become what they are already in fact: just another niche activity. But it's too much damn fun to take potshots at them from time to time.

Brian -- Many lovely arguments and statements, thanks. But I wish I could share your conviction that, over time, the best will rise to the top!

MQ -- I go into diabetic arrest looking at Kinkade too. But I certainly think he's talented and skillful, if no more so than many illustrators of kids' books. (And I'm a fan of such illustrators, so this isn't a put-down, just a characterization of his work: it's storybook-illustration stuff, and perfectly competent as such, or so it seems to me.) I'm going to be a little mischievous about one thing. On the one hand, you seem to think it's important to dislike bad art. On the other, you admire Andy Warhol. But Andy Warhol loved much bad art, or was at the very least fascinated by it, to the point where he was completely obsessed by it: Brlllo boxes, tabloid photography, celebrity portraits, pornography, etc. Yet, not only did his fondness for bad art not do him any harm, it helped him attain official-art-world "genius" status. So run by me again your reason for thinking that taking the proper stance on "bad art" is important? From your own example, it seems to me that digging bad art tends to work out better.

Posted by: Michael Blowhard on December 15, 2005 12:06 AM

Great point on Warhol, MB. I'll tell you exactly why his embrace of bad art wasn't bad. Warhol was a conceptual artist, in that he was interested in using aesthetics to explore somewhat abstract ideas (unlike a lot of conceptual "artists" though, he really was an artist -- he created real, affecting aesthetic experiences, he didn't just stick essay themes on the wall). One of the deepest conceptual themes he had was the tension between mass production / technological reproduction and individuality. That's such a rich theme, it touches on everything from advertising to mass production to political propaganda to the nature of celebrity. Most of his greatest works involve playing with that tension -- the famous wall of Campbell's soup cans (notice that all the identical, mass produced cans on the wall are carefully labelled with very different types of soup), the various celebrity silkscreens (mass production of the individual celebrity personality), the "Factory" itself as a machine for the creation of celebrity, etc. etc. But these pieces *work* sitting on a wall too. The best of the Campbell's soup stuff is very well composed, and the contrast between the sameness of the cans and the huge range of promised flavor experiences on the labels is affecting once you get close enough to read the labels. The silkscreens of Elvis, Marylyn, Mao have some wonderful and striking color and textural contrasts, while retaining the magazine photo qualities from their sources. Part of this force is that Warhol wasn't at all delivering some crudely leftist critique of modernity; he understood the liberating potential of mass production, and that potential is present in his work. This is an overly simplistic analysis on my part of course (some themes I'm skipping: Warhol's obsession with physical beauty and how he worked that into his themes-- he was a real gay aesthete with an intense appreciation for beautiful bodies and faces; also his exploration of the parallels between advertising and sexual fetish), but it will do for a blog comment.

By immersing himself in the products of mass industrial civilization (what you call his "bad art") Warhol was getting the aesthetic understanding of mass production he needed to incorporate the theme of mass art into the aesthetic productions he wanted to create. As someone who used to be one of the best commercial artists in NY City he had a good appreciation of the actual craftsmanship and skill in industrial design and advertising imagery, and he brought that to his collecting and his work. He probably would have denied that the junk he collected was "bad", in the sense that he wanted to get at the ways in which mass production, industrial advertising, and propaganda were destroying the uniqueness of art and blurring traditional lines between "good" and "bad" (hence "pop" art, not high art). As I said above he understood that this was liberatory as well as potentially destructive; he refuses to take an `ethical' position on it). In the terms of my comment on bad art above: he was using what is conventionally called "bad" art to get at new truths about the way aesthetic experience worked, not to close down the way he saw the world. Hence his embrace of it was not "bad".

I am somewhat more traditional on some of these matters than Warhol, but I also believe that he had many deep and insightful points. It's hard to deny the effect that the industrialization of imagery has had on aesthetic experience. Warhol was prophetic in many ways, deeply original and in a sense visionary. He lost his novelty when the culture really started to catch up with his themes in the 70s, but the best of his work retains its visceral force. Check out the Warhol museum in Pittsburgh sometime.

Posted by: MQ on December 15, 2005 1:33 AM

I may regret this and apologize if it's too long but...

You ask,

"I'm not sure what your point is. That schools, individuals and approaches who have gotten no attention or respect from the media/academic art establishment have no right to complain? That seems an odd argument. Why shouldn't they bitch about it? In my experience, the media/academic art establishment (we really should come up with a snappier name for it) is almost as close-minded as the literary-writing world, which is really saying something."

My point (again) is there really is no monolithic "THEY" there in the Official Art World. A false dichotomy is set up. There are members in good standing of the Official Art World who champion Warhol or Wyeth or Pollock or Basquiat or Christo or whomever ad infinitum. Books are written, articles published, panel discussions convened and exhibitions mounted that cover all sorts of aesthetic territory. There are feuds that have run for decades among hundreds of different aesthetic camps.

Over there, someone dismisses Kinkade as vacant kitsch. Over here one hundred years of increasingly abstract imagery is dismissed, poked fun at, or disparage on the grounds that it does not live up to the same set of criteria one might apply to Kinkade.

The underlying set of presumptions in this discussion seems to be that painting (and the support of the Official Art World for certain types of painting) somehow veered off course in the late nineteenth century. The notion that painting is no longer predominantly prized for the exercise of technical expertise in the service of realistic imagery with unambiguous content seems to be considered a flaw in the system.

Furthermore, certain artists who have chosen to produce art that appeals to a broad popular market and who have very successfully exploited that market through canny entrepreneurial means should not only enjoy their wealth and popularity, but they also deserve academic and critical accolades from the Official Art World as well.

My point is not to disparage bad art or artists per se. Rather, it is to explore what qualities a given artist aspires to and how well they achieve those aspirations. Depending upon those qualities and achievements they and their work can be critiqued. Judged as a form of commercial art Kinkade is a master. He aims to make paintings that are sentimental eye candy. He then reproduces them in huge quantity to provide product for his vast chain of galleries; more power to him.

However, judged as a fine art painter, he is a very, very, very, minor talent. What, beyond technical facility, has been offered to make the case for Kinkade?

Consider Odd Nerdrum [http://www.], a Norwegian painter who has embraced as a badge of honor the (supposed) epithet of Kitsch. He does allegorical, Post-Apocryphical figurative paintings. He shows in major museums and galleries and has a host of collectors and critical supporters in the Official Art World. There are also Official Art World types who offer cogent arguments why Nerdrum should not be considered a major painter. Time (and the market) will tell.

By way of final analogy, this is a bit like fans of Brittany Spears wondering why the Official Music World doesn't treat her with the same serious respect as they do Miles Davis. Oh, and by the way, what's with all that twelve-tone crap academic anyway?

Sorry for the long rant. I do find this a fun and interesting exercise.

Posted by: Chris White on December 15, 2005 11:09 AM

I love Butirskiy's paintings---thanks so much for showing them to me.

Posted by: annette on December 15, 2005 11:35 AM

Donald wrote:

One of my biographical sources on Kinkade mentions that the "playfully" adds bits to his paintings such as a sign on the Lourve for a sold-out Kinkade exhibit.

Benjamin writes:

I think I would like his work more if it had more such cleverness and connection to the "real" world.

To clarify a bit my feelings about the childrens' book Grandma Moses-styled four seasons illustrations that I mentioned, in those illustrations I somehow got the feeling that the roads actually led somewhere and had a rough idea of what kind of towns and villages they led to. I don't get this feeling with the Kinkade work. They seem kind of lazy/inconsistent in this regard -- like playing tennis without a net.

And to clarify a bit my feelings about fantasy art work. I think if an artist is going to invent a fantasy world, each painting/illustration should somehow suggest that it is part of a fully formed "alternate universe." That's one of the reasons I like James Gurney's National Geographic-styled illustrations of Dinotopia.

Here's the URL [correct term?] for an interesting page on the official [?] website of James Gurney's Dinotopia:

- - - - - - - - -

Donald wrote:

As for the 5th Ave painting, I'm having trouble with the tall, pointy building towards the center of the picture. I just can't remember any building like that being in the upper-40s or lower 50s on the west side of the street. You know the city lots better than I do -- any ideas?

Benjamin writes:

If I understand your question correctly, the building is the Crown Building (originally the Heckscher Building). The building is located on the southwest corner of Fifth Ave. and 57th St. (directly across the street from Tiffany's).

Despite its distinctive top (and its interesting history), it's easy to see how this building kind of gets lost among the buildings surrounding it -- especially as, over the years, other things got built around it.

So, it seems to me, it actually may be to Kinkade's credit that in this painting, at least, he used his art to highlight something that the everyday viewer might easily overlook.

Here's the URL for City Review profile of the Crown Building:

Posted by: Benjamin Hemric on December 15, 2005 12:21 PM

"On the personal level, Kinkade married his childhood sweetheart and fathered four daughters. He is deeply religious and has used his art for charitable fund-raising. For artsy-intellectoids, what's not to hate?"

Donald, you made me laugh out loud in my cube, which is dangerous because someone always wants to know what's so damn funny at work.

Good show.

Posted by: Yahmdallah on December 15, 2005 1:01 PM

There are so many layers, by-ways, exceptions, emotionalities, cultures, and so on when it comes to art -- and that's a GOOD thing.

The rap that Pollock paints the way someone's kid does ties back to a conviction that a painting should be about something. (He's far more vulnerable from the point of view that he used such bad quality paint that his work is changing color, dropping bits, and so on -- photos show that some have changed quite a lot, so what does THAT mean? Are they losing value? Are they no longer works of art since they aren't what the artist created but something accidental emerging by itself?)

Western art stuck to the realistic figurative subject and was often bragged up as "historically accurate" in terms of landscape, accoutrements, and so on. This might be especially valid in a world before photography -- surely part of the impetus towards non-figurative art was to distinguish painting from photography. But now Terpening makes it a point to say that he paints from photos -- not always his own photos -- in order to fight the accusation of sentimentality in the sense of inaccuracy. It's pretty hard to know how to resist sentimentality when one's subject is 19th century Plains Indians. Interesting that the outstanding Native American artists are most often abstract. Even Oreland Joe, who is a member of the Cowboy Artists of America, carves in a stylized way.

I love Mian Situ's work, but I think it's a little sentimental, too -- not in the way of Terpening who paints Indians the same blurry and wartless way he painted pretty girls for the story slick mags -- but in a blameless way of lifting up a lost history, the major contribution of the "Celestials" to this country. The high quality of the work supports the subject matter. But he often gets a Norman Rockwell effect -- the little boy trying on a trunk of cowboy gear while the giggling Chinese girls admire.

The approach to painting that I like most is the one named by the person above who paints. The tiny bit of instruction that I've had was a mind-opening experience. Suddenly to be able to name things means to see them -- you can't see or discuss what you don't have the vocabulary for. This is where I think the public schools and even television have woefully short-changed the public. Even the art-focused magazines shirk the duty of discussing composition or values by talking about how admirable the artist is or how meteoric his rise has been.

I'm intrigued by the link of Kinkade-type pastel and misty images to funeral cards. It's definitely a style we are most used to on greeting cards: the sentimental Victorian approach to milestones, sort of semi-religious in a pretty bouquet way. But this is what makes us say, "Oh, cheap sentiment. An escape from the world instead of an insight into it."

In the end the artist's work, or more accurately, the act of work, is the best reward to the artist -- but I don't know why the artist should starve. I don't see the virtue sometimes attributed to starving. And I think some rewards are all out of relationship to artistic value. Damien Hirst's shark in formaldehyde is a stunt, not art, and may in the end do more mischief than intended.

A better model to my mind is the obsessive, religious, evocative paintings on the wall of the caves in Lascaux.

Prairie Mary

Posted by: Mary Scriver on December 15, 2005 1:01 PM

A couple of afterthoughts: It's interesting to compare Kinkade with Jacquie Lawson ( who does animated greeting cards in a much more crisp and witty style than usual to the genre. She DOES do the house with lighted windows and the sky full of stars, etc. My grandmother, back in the Forties, used to give me little cards with Biblical verses on them -- Jesus in his nightgown, many flowers, etc. Jacquie is not far off except that she adds a big black lab dog. And it all moves. Every time there's a technical advance, an artist soon takes advantage. (She composes music, too.)

Two movies I own are really very helpful for someone who wants to get closer to the sensory, tactile, THINKING sensation of painting. One is "Girl with a Pearl Earring" and the other is "La Belle Noiseuse" in which a real artist obsessively paints a troublesome but beautiful nude model. You see the artist's hands and the paper as much as the woman. He draws a line, scratches it out, floods it with water, messes around in it with his fingers, draws another line that builds on where the first was, and so on.

Prairie Mary

Posted by: Mary Scriver on December 15, 2005 2:15 PM

Some more thoughts on other's posts...

Mary makes a point about non-objective "abstract" painting trying to distinguish itself from photography by taking this direction. The idea behind this is that, since you can capture an image accurately with a camera, realistic painting is thus unnecessary, even redundant. But can't photography itself be considered an art form? If so, what is it about a photograph that makes it art (or more precisely, "artful")? I've heard a great deal of representational painting dismissed as being "photographic". Well, if a photograph is photographically rendered, and it can be considered artful, why can't a highly detailed representational painting also be artful? Perhaps what makes a painting artful isn't necessarily its detailed rendering, but something more elusive. Mary is right about realistic painters (and buyers)nowadays being overly concerned with whether or not an image is created from photographic reference. Given the above observation, I think this issue is irrelevant. Also, realistic painters vary greatly from cameras in the fact that they edit, compose, and simplify to a much greater extent than a camera. (As a side observation, many photographers, being reliant on the camera, have a hard time achieving color harmony with their photography. This is why most photographers use color filters, strongly colored light sources (such as sunsets), or revert to black and white film to achieve harmonious color).

To Chris White, you say above that a consensus eventually forms as to what is good artful painting from the gallery/academic world and the public. When has the public ever endorsed this abstract/non-objective painting? The fact of the matter is that the public at large hates it, can't stand it, and are bafffled as to why anyone would bother looking at it, much less spend large (even outrageous) amounts of money to acquire it. In a different post you say the opposite, that there are many camps in the art intellegentsia who promote their own favorites and disparage others. Which is it? I think Michael is right, in that these people must agree on some things across the board. The one thing they do agree on is that the judgements of what should be considered artful painting is their province alone, with no refernce to the tastes and opinions of the general public, and that all of the painting which is to be seriously considered may never have either a technical or philosphical approach which differs from their own. The art critics and academics are the first and last arbiters. I leave it to you to make a judgement as to the merit of what they have achieved, and the fate of other art forms which they may come to control.

Chris White also said that there seems to be an idea that modern painting took a wrong turn at the end of the nineteenth century, and that if painters aren't using their technical expertise in the service of painting realistic imagery with unambiguous content, something is wrong. You don't agree with that, then okay, that's your take, fair enough. My take on it is that the idea in question is correct, and that the direction taken by the Modern and Abstract painting establishment is decadent and intent on destroying a form of traditional visual communication that was developed over millenia. The Moderns and Deconstructionists don't care about visual communication. They don't want to master the visual language as painters. So they move it onto the artist's statement, in a language that they have (supposedly) more mastery of, or they fail in the communication process entirely, in deconstruction, and the viewer tells the painter what the painter really meant, standing communication on its head. This is why self-expression is the mantra of the modern movement, not communication. With self-expression, the beginning and end of the process is the self, without regard for the viewer. This is why there is so much thumb-nosing naughtiness and shocking of the viewer-if you don't care about the viewer, if self-expression is the end, you can do anything you want. If you truly wanted to communicate with someone else and be taken seriously, you wouldn't try to insult or shock. You'd try to figure out a way to be taken seriously, even if what you were trying to communicate stood in sharp distiction to the opinions of the viewer.

There is also the idea that realistic painting can neither have abstract ideas or ambiguity, that this is the province of abstract painting alone. This is the put-down implied by the terms "objective" and "representational", and it is clearly false. If it were true, how could any imagery be symbolic? Wouldn't all things just be themselves alone, and nothing else? Here's an interesting question: which is more of an abstraction: paint which looks like a tree, a brook, a face, a body, a cloud, etc., or paint which looks like, well, just paint? You see, representational painting can actually be more abstract than abstract painting! Representational painters can also write artist statements, so where's the advantage in abstract painting? How is it an advance? It is simply a destruction of the visual language.

Mary also writes that all the diverstiy in painting is a good thing. I say excellence in painting is a good thing. People are natuarally diverse, but few exhibit excellence. There are violent and cruel people who prey on innocents. This contributes to diversity, but not the common good, and certainly not to excellence.

I also want to take back my description of a lot of contemporary realism as sentimental. this term is a popular one with the avant gardists and is used to deride any work which focuses on the happier, positive emotions, rather than the dark, negative ones. I concluded that the overwhelming majority of people pursue happiness, not pain, so such work stands in healthy relation to sane living. I do, however, wish for more variety and some treatment of the less superficial aspects of modern life. More range, I should say. My fault.

One last observation i have about the contemporary realism movement is that it is not about modern american life. Mian Situ's work is popular because he paints chinese people, as Howard Terpning paints indians, as Pino paints italian women in victorian clothing, etc. The only realistic, modern, descriptive genre of american painting is the landscape. White males, religion, adolecent males, old people, modern clothing, modern living, etc. , are generally taboo. There is a certain amount of self-hatred in this I find disquieting. The proof of this is that as these foreign (rural chinese, indian, etc.) cultures become more like our own (less religious, more interracial, more pluralistic, more technologically modern, more modern, plain dress), these painters lose interest in them, and actually call them "ruined" or "lost". Just some thoughts. Thanks again for reading.

Posted by: Brian Minder on December 15, 2005 7:29 PM

Brian Minder,

Re: a consensus eventually forms ...

A] ... over time periods longer than a few decades. One might prefer them more or less 'dabby', but there is broad consensus (including among the general public) that Monet was a serious painter and an important artist. Find me an abstract painter who tells you Michelangelo was a hack 'cuz he painted ceilings and I'll kick him in the shins for you myself.

Re: a different post you say the opposite, that there are many camps ... who promote their own favorites and disparage others.

B] These are NOT opposite positions. The discourse and arguments, attacks and cheerleading, are means by which the issues of quality and aesthetic value are examined and from which that elusive consensus (eventually) develops. It is the difference between talking about art history and the current art scene. They are related, but not identical. And consensus is not exact agreement on all particulars.

Re: ...these people must agree ... judgements of .. artful painting is their province alone, with no refernce to the tastes and opinions of the general public, and... to be seriously considered may never have either a technical or philosphical approach which differs from their own.

C] Not true; see B above. Monet & Co., Picasso and his bad posse, shocked and were dismissed both by the general public and the Official Art World of their day. Over time both the public and the OAW contributed their individual and collective tastes and preferences to the process by which these artists entered the Canon.

And, in any field, are not those who spend their lives dedicated to study of the field the ones we expect to be making judgments? Should doctors consider the opinion of old wives when hunting the cure to the common cold? Probably, and a good scientist will. That said, they aren't going to simply accept folk wisdom without further inquiry just because Granny always was a healin' woman.

Re: .... the direction taken by the Modern and Abstract painting establishment is decadent and intent on destroying a form of traditional visual communication that was developed over millenia.

D] ... THIS edges close to paranoia. We're back to the poor, innocent viewer, who doesn't know a lot about art, but knows what he likes, and right now he wants the artist to give him what he likes and cut the crap, dammit!

Re: The Moderns and Deconstructionists don't care about visual communication.

E] This notion is so wrong, on so many levels, I find it difficult to wrap my mind around how to respond.

I deal with plenty of abstract painters. They are passionate about developing and extending their visual language. They are concerned with painting tools and the technical aspects of paint. They are driven to create art objects (paintings) that move them, or make them laugh, or fill them with foreboding. They want viewers to share those experiences.

Re: ... the put-down implied by the terms "objective" and "representational"

F] See D above. These are not put-downs, implied or otherwise. It would seem everyone posting has been using the terms as neutral descriptions in the conventional way. What terms would you prefer we use for discussion purposes? At one time it was the height of Hip to discuss the work of Pollock et al as "non-objective" art. Is that any better or less cumbersome?

As you note, by one set of definitions a painting of a tree is form of abstraction whereas a painting with no intentional or discernable image is an object ... one we call a painting. What could be more real than that? Interestingly enough, this was a major topic of discourse for some time within certain groups of abstract artists and theorists. It's still a perennial party talk favorite among some crowds. Or, as one painter puts it, 'Red is as real as a Rose."

Having had my share of discussions with members of the 'general public' who seem personally affronted by abstract painting, it isn't really the art itself that causes the sense of affront. What seems to get them so riled up is the idea that anyone ELSE would want to pay serious money for it.

My usual answer is to note that the Art Market may be as close to theoretically pure capitalism as we'll ever get to see. A set of objects are created, they are the Supply. There is a Demand for them that supports a given price structure. At an auction, whether for cattle or paintings, a lot is offered, buyers trade bids and the lot sells (or doesn't) for whatever amount the guy who wants it most is willing to pay. Would it be better to create an 'Art Price Council' consisting of a representative cross section of the mythic 'general public' and have them each make an offer, then use a mean average for the final price?

Did you check out Odd Nerdrum? Maybe you'd like Carlo Maria Mariani.
[} He has the same type of list of museum and gallery exhibition history as any other "Establishment" artist. He paints in a classical style. Plenty of abstract painters would prostrate themselves to have the same level of success. There is no plot, no cabal; and if there were, it wouldn't be abstract painters calling the shots.

Posted by: Chris White on December 15, 2005 10:27 PM

Mei/Moses is an impressive website. All this nervousness about the value of art has been very good for the intermediary and consultant business.

I don't know how far the news got about a rather major case here in Great Falls where the sale of what was thought to be a genuine Charlie Russell turned out to be painted by his friend and fellow artist, Olaf Seltzer. It was Seltzer's grandson, also an excellent painter, who delivered the bad news. The new origin knocked a zero off the value of the painting: from $100,000 to $10,000, so the seller of the painting sued for the loss of value. Then the grandson countersued for the malicious attack on his reputation and won.

This stuff is like high-stakes poker.

Sometimes it's funny. An old client of Bob Scriver's died and his estate was being auctioned. Included was a linoleum print Christmas card that I'd made but which was being sold as Bob's work. Someone called me at home to say I must call and protest and set everyone straight, because otherwise the value was way too high. I laughed and didn't do it. I should call and say, "Don't pay much for that because it was only made by little me?"

The auctions are making a huge difference in the Western art scene -- probably everywhere else as well if the NY Times is reporting accurately. Everyone can pajama-shop for famous Impressionist work and compete with a Japanese tycoon via the phone.

I looked up Brian Minder's list of contemporary people on AskArt and I see that they amount to a "school," educated together (sometimes teacher and student, sometimes spouses) and probably the beneficiaries of many long speculations like these comments. I do like their art.

Prairie Mary

Posted by: Mary Scriver on December 16, 2005 12:13 AM


Thanks for reading and responding to my post. I, like Michael and Donald, appreciate your voice and views. I'm just offering my point of view for consideration. We will have to probably agree to disagree about some things here, but one thing we are both lucky to have is a great appreciation for painting which we enjoy, albeit from a different perspective.

The point I was trying to make about the different camps is that, again, in regards to modern painting, for some reason the opinion of the general public is desregarded. The common opinion on this is that they are ignorant and therefore, their views are generally worthless. Yet why, then, are great works by Raphael, Michaelangelo, Bernini, Vermeer, Ruebens, Monet, etc., so loved and often visited by this same general public? Why is this not true for Barnett Newman, Rothko, and Bacon? See, not even all the general public likes Kinkade, and nobody with any deep knowledge of painting likes his work. But on the great Masters, there is a consensus I think that real masterpieces appeal to different people on different levels, and that a popular assessment of an artist's value is important. A disregard for this is one (among many) reasons for the decline in the public's interest in visual art. This, oddly enough, leads to ignorance.

There is a very big difference between the Impressionists and Picasso and his successors. Impressionism is really an extension of the desire of realistic painters to understand the natural and visual world in order to more effectively communicate their ideas to the viewer. The idea of putting more or less unmixed pure colors adjacent to one another in order to achieve great color saturation, and working directly from life by painting plein air, was a way to get around the problem of muddy, brown colors achieved by most studio painters, and the subtractive color quality inherent in mixing paint. They also tried to get away from the silly, rigid classical themes in vogue with the Salon by painting romatic themes of everyday life. Through it all, their objective was a greater fidelity to the everyday, natural world we all experience-thus the appeal of their work. Picasso and his crowd had a much different objective in mind. Cubism was an attempt to go beyond the "illusion" of the picture plane. They tried to capture many different views of the same object in one painting. His crowd was the first one to depart from the everyday way we see things. This proceeded until painters decided to paint nothing recognizable at all. How is this not a destruction of the visual language of painting? You're right in that I lumped all of the modern painters in this category. There are other movements where this is not practiced. Yet, I think the point still holds for non-objective painting. It is only an advance in the same way that erasing writing from a chalkboard is considered an advance in written language. It isn't. It is a destruction of such.

In addition, most modern art advocates like to lump themselves in with the Impressionists for a variety of reasons, one being the desire to see their own movements as being similarly important and skillful. Another is to see themselves as champions fighting an Establishment which is superficial and stifling. I would offer the view that all change is not and advance-things can change for the worse, and it is not surprising that most people are resistant to change. The fact that most people dislike modern art is not proof of its revolutionalry nature. It just means people don't like it. If you think time will somehow change this, I wish you a lot of luck. I have seen no indication, after 50 (80, 100?) years that opinion will turn around. Again, who has established the modern art Canon? Its not the general public.

I believe you when you say that many abstract painters you know are passionate about developing and extending their visual language. I'm sure they are concerned with technique and tools. I'm sure they are driven to create work that moves other people. But if they decide to develop some sort of idiosyncratic personal language, rather than using a universal one that other people understand or like enough to understand, you can pitch all those other high motives in the can. No one will spend enough time in front of the thing in order to figure out those things (think Joyce's Finnegan's Wake). I'm baffled why modern painters can't understand this. As far as I'm concerned, there are greater values in painting than being some sort of innovator or visionary. Look, we live in this material world. We see things a certain way. We are familiar with this setup. Why any painter would reject this, and the power it holds to communicate and move people is simply astonishing! And then to put down people who can't figure out or don't want to figure out their idiosyncratic, abstruse, abstract language is the height of arrogance. Again, the whole thing is centered around self-expression and not communication. The self is God, the highest value.

As far as people using the terms "objective" and "representational" (and "photographic") as put downs, indeed it happens. I have heard any number of people wandering around museums saying this and disminssing the work. I have also heard numerous art students say the same thing from their professors or other students in critques. I will grant you, however that this may not be your and other's assessment, so I agree with your dissent on this point.

As far as "a painting with no intentional or discernable image is and an we call a painting", my living room walls have paint on them with no intentional or discernable image. I call them walls. I also hang paintings on them. This makes the walls look much better. Perhaps those abstract painters could hang paintings on their canvases to make them look better too.

Again, the general public isn't so much affronted as baffled why anyone would value such stuff. They see such glorification and high prices as an attack on their culture. That is why they are angry. And they are right. When someone pays tens of millions of dollars for colored squares, and a Ruebens, say, is priced the same, they regard it the way they would if you paid the same amount of money to someone who worked hard all day and was productive as to someone who worked for 5 minutes and sat on their duff the rest of the time. One guy is the bedrock of a society, and the other guy is one-way ticket to the decrepitude and destruction. A disconnect is made between effort and skill, and reward. Please don't try to BS me how Mark Rothko is as good as, say, John Singer Sargent. I know better. The money doesn't convince me. Rothko needs every bit of support that he can get from the Art Establishment, the critics at major publications and academics. The galleries and suction houses are just there to make money. Its the critics and academics who provide the justification for this stuff. Sargent doesn't need any of this. His work stands on its own. Anybody can paint the colored squares and everybody knows it. Only a handful have ever painted as well as Sargent. What is rare and beautiful has value. It is the job of the Art Establishment to provde the lie of the rarity and beauty to the colored squares. Otherwise the whole thing falls apart. And the last thing that can be admitted to the party is the general public, who has never signed on to the charade and who is always disregarded and put down because once their opinions are admitted and taken seriously, the game is over.

By the way, the last thing in the world that the Art Market could be identified as is a free market. Anyone who has studied economics knows the closest thing to a free market is commodities, like soybeans or corn. Art ain't that! I would expect supporters of modernism to fall back on money when they lose the aesthetic argument. Its the only thing modernism has going for it. And yeah, I think the general public should have a say in the art market. Only they don't get it at the auction house or galleries. They get it when they visit (or don't visit) museums, or buy books, or reproductions to put on their walls. I guess you forgot the money there, huh? Anyway, nobody listens to a song because the CD cost them a lot of money. That's not the real value of a painting, unless art is just like a stock certificate to you.

The real revenge the public gets is that they get to see and live in a world of beautiful work every day they get up and look at their repros. The rich fools get up every day and look at ugliness and tragedy, and live their "deep", serious, "ambiguous" existence. Once your life is gone, no amount of money will bring it back. Sane people like to enjoy it while it lasts. And that's my attitude about the whole thing.

You can have the last word, Chris, or anyone else that wants to respond. Thanks for indulging me once again.

Posted by: Brian Minder on December 16, 2005 2:59 AM

Phew! I love a challenge. Again, I offer my apologies to others reading this thread overwhelmed by its length.

To Prairie Mary -

Glad you checked out the Mei/Moses site. It is an intriguing look at Art as a market.

To Brian Minder -

I continue to resist your insistence on setting up a diametric opposition between two supposedly antithetical poles. For me, it's like saying:

"There's a North Pole and a South Pole, which one is better?"

"Uh, well, I don't know. I spend most of my time in New England."

"Ah, ha! So, you're a nasty, elitist, North Poler! Don't you know the general public prefers penguins to Polar bears?"

As an aside, among things I did this week was spend forty five minutes on the phone with a painter whose self assigned challenge for the past dozen years has been attempting to learn, technically as well as aesthetically, how the Hudson River School luminists achieved what they did. He'd been in his studio painting, hit a wall of frustration, and called because he felt he needed to talk about art and painting and the misguided policies of art schools and ... You get the idea.

Also, I talked to an abstract painter. He was frustrated because the daily demands of dealing with his mother's estate in Probate, getting his kid to and from school and ballet, e-mailing image files to galleries preparing for upcoming shows, etc. meant he wasn't finding time to paint. It was killing him because he NEEDS to paint to be who he is.

Both of these are artists I like and admire. And, yes, honestly, at the end of the day, if I had to pick one of them as being more "important" it would be the abstract painter for reasons we need not attempt to parse here.

That said, (circling back to poor, old, Mr. Kinkade for a moment) the landscape painter is better by far than Kinkade, worthy of public support and admiration, he should be better known and his work should be sold for higher sums than it is.

Mama told me life wasn't gonna be fair. But who should be blamed?

Re: regards to modern painting ... the opinion of the general public is desregarded. Yet why, then, are great works by Raphael, Michaelangelo, Bernini, Vermeer, Ruebens, Monet, etc., so loved and often visited by this same general public? Why is this not true for Barnett Newman, Rothko, and Bacon?

A] Every time I've gone to an exhibition by Newman, Rothko, Pollock and so on, there were plenty of viewers. They seemed to be enjoying themselves and appreciating the art, not scoffing. Shall we simply assume that all visitors to see abstract art must, by definition, NOT be considered as the general public because we've set up a definition of general public that precludes them doing so? This is the slippery slope of sophistry.

Re: ...Impressionism is really an extension of the desire of realistic painters to understand the natural and visual world in order to more effectively communicate their ideas to the viewer. They also tried to get away from the silly, rigid classical themes in vogue with the Salon by painting romatic themes of everyday life.

B] ... Did I, in my last comments, mention the cyclic nature of Classicism vs. Romanticism? No? Like virtually everything in life (day/night, happy/sad) the dominant ... let's call it the arts moves back and forth. You seem to have a bias toward the Romantic. Fine with me. I tend more toward the Dionysian than Apollonian myself. As do many abstract painters by the way, hence their interest in Monet.

Of course, one difficulty I face is the insistence in this particular forum on lumping all abstract painting into one big unified thing. It isn't. I won't duck too far down another tangential rabbit hole here, but will point out, for example, that Ellsworth Kelly (best known works = large, flatly painted monochromes; i.e. looks just like your wall) comes from a very different place aesthetically, intellectually, etc. than his contemporary Jules Olitski (best known works = multiple overlapping veils of color rolled & spray painted to create a "color field" to which further marks are made.) Kelly is a Classicist and approaches his art from a highly theoretic and intellectual place, he wants the viewer to think. Olitski a Romantic interested in process, materials, and generating a compelling visual experience for the viewer, he wants the viewer to feel. This is way over simplified, of course, but serves for the moment.

I also note your issue of "themes." Yes, one reason Monet et al became popular (as well as aesthetically lauded by that mean old Art World) was that their subject matter shifted from historical, classical, aristocratic ones to everyday people and life. This is a fine area to explore, but not quite germane to the subject(s) at hand.

Re: ...Cubism was an attempt to go beyond the "illusion" of the picture plane. They tried to capture many different views of the same object in one painting. How is this not a destruction of the visual language of painting?

C] ... Hmmmmm. Okay. Try this. Look at something sitting on a table. Close one eye and look at it. Open that eye and close the other. Do that for a while. Try to paint what you saw. Is that not seeking to extend, rather than destroy, the language of painting?

Re: ...No one will spend enough time in front of the thing in order to figure out those things (think Joyce's Finnegan's Wake). .... And then to put down people who can't figure out or don't want to figure out their idiosyncratic, abstruse, abstract language is the height of arrogance.

D] ...Better let the folks in charge of the Picasso Museum know that. All those people standing around in front of the paintings must be having some kind of mental or medical crisis.

Shifting art forms, you opine no one reads Joyce. (An arguable point, check out the many "Bloomsday" readings in cities around the English-speaking world each June.) Perhaps you prefer Hemingway. Whether he is more popular, easier to understand, or whatever is neither here nor there.

In any field there is, if you will, an elite made up of experts, professors, academics, and researchers. Take Physics, the general public sort of vaguely wraps its mind around Einstein and his Theory of Relativity while the industrious boys and girls at M.I.T. & Cal Tech doodle on computerized blackboards and mumble about string theory. Does it matter that the "general public" doesn't understand their mumbo jumbo? Should they abandon their efforts and devote their time to demonstrating why we now believe the world is round, not flat?

And if they get snappish at times with members of the general public lobbing brickbats their way over topics like the Big Bang or age of the Universe shall we dismiss them as arrogant and toss out all their findings?

Re: ... they regard it the way they would if you paid the same amount of money to someone who worked hard all day and was productive as to someone who worked for 5 minutes and sat on their duff the rest of the time. One guy is the bedrock of a society, and the other guy is one-way ticket to the decrepitude and destruction.

E] ... Hey, this could be fun! Talk about a tangential rabbit hole. Like, say, the Day Laborer and the Stock Broker. The latter sits at his desk with a Bluetooth phone strapped on his ear, chatting with clients and friends, watching the ticker. He clicks the keyboard every so often; tens of thousands change hands. He takes his cut and heads out to his big SUV for the drive home. I like the idea that he is your image of a "one-way ticket to ... decrepitude and destruction" as opposed to the (possibly illegal) immigrant Day Laborer (who spent the last ten hours grounds-keeping back at Mr. Broker's McMansion) as the bedrock of society.

Is this not how you see the world? Is it not consistent with your point?

Re: ...Please don't try to BS me how Mark Rothko is as good as, say, John Singer Sargent. I know better.

F] ... This I find somewhat annoying. Your taste = Truth. By what means do you "know" that Rothko is not as good as Sargent?

I enjoy and appreciate Rothko. I enjoy and appreciate Sargent. Each lived at a time and explored areas of painting different from the other. They appealed (and still appeal) to different, yet at times overlapping, audiences. What Sargent had to say to other painters with his work and did to extend his own understanding of painting, versus what he did to accommodate his market is what it was; the same is true of Rothko. Both have champions and those who find them wanting. Why is this a problem?

Re: ...Anyone who has studied economics knows the closest thing to a free market is commodities, like soybeans or corn. Art ain't that! I would expect supporters of modernism to fall back on money when they lose the aesthetic argument. Its the only thing modernism has going for it. And yeah, I think the general public should have a say in the art market. Only they don't get it at the auction house or galleries. They get it when they visit (or don't visit) museums, or buy books, or reproductions to put on their walls. I guess you forgot the money there, huh?

G] ... Okay. I'm not an economist. Are you saying commodities (can we include oil?) are traded in a "pure" way, with no government price support structures, no attempts to control prices or availability by ADM or Monsanto, no forces except supply and demand? I don't buy it.

My point was and is that the "general public" DOES have a say in the art market. Where we seem to part is over who, what, and how monolithic is that "general public." That is where this started, Kinkade and his galleries, remember? I did not forget this, nor forget the money there.

I'm merely pointing out that anyone can decide to go to an auction (maybe the one with the misattributed Prairie Mary Christmas card print) and be free to bid whatever they're willing to spend on a piece of art they like. There are local art auctions for charity. There are also galleries nearly everywhere. The "general public" can go in, look around, buy something they see if they like it enough and feel they can afford, leave if they don't. There are annual "art in the park" fairs where artists of any and every stylistic bent can rent a booth and sell their work. You can go to the bookstore and get a nice coffee table tome celebrating Sargent.

Re: ... the general public isn't so much affronted as baffled why anyone would value such stuff. They see such glorification and high prices as an attack on their culture. That is why they are angry.... real revenge ... rich fools ... look at ugliness and tragedy, and live their "deep", serious, "ambiguous" existence.

H] I'm sorry, but you sound far more affronted and angry than baffled. Having set up a false dichotomy, you make unfounded, unproven and unsubstantiated claims against those whose aesthetic tastes you do not share.

A wealthy collector goes to a galley in New York City. He sees an abstract painting by, say, the aforementioned Jules Olitski. It is a unique art object, 60" x 40". He likes the painting and buys it for $35,000. He puts it on his wall and gets to enjoy what he sees as its beauty and life-affirming message. He is aware that the investment value of the painting may rise or fall based on auction results, shifts in fashion, etc.

A school librarian goes into a Thomas Kinkade Galleries, Inc. outlet at a mall in Kansas, she likes the image of the wee cottage with the hot pink sunset. She buys the 24" x 16", "limited edition" digitally reproduced on canvas piece, framed, for $995. She is aware that, like van Gogh paintings or Beany Babies, there is a secondary market for the work should she tire of it or need to raise cash. The investment value of the print may rise or fall based on auction results, shifts in fashion, etc.

Two facets of the art market serving essentially the same purpose, getting an art object into the hands of someone who appreciates it. What still seems to burn your butt, Brian, is that price differential. You feel disparaged because "They" don't like what you like, and so you disparage them in turn for heinous crimes against the general public.

I do not think, especially in America, we are very well educated in the arts, be they literary (see Joyce) or visual. I say this makes it difficult for the "general public" to understand and thus appreciate abstract painting. You say you "know" Sargent is better than Rothko, yet offer no support except Rothko didn't paint a woman in a black dress that looks like a woman in a black dress.

I have no interest in browbeating you into liking what you don't. If you want to attempt to understand what abstract artists are trying to do, I enjoy the challenge of trying to help in that process. It might be consistent with much of what you have to say if you want to argue that Kinkade is better than Sargent because his work appeals to more of the "general public," but I doubt you're going to convince many of that. Thus, you've tacitly accepted that judgments beyond general popularity are important. The question is whose judgments and on what basis are those judgments made. So, we're back to the art market and art history.

Posted by: Chris White on December 16, 2005 12:55 PM

There is definitely a book in all this. I look forward to reading it.

I tried Kinkade on and found that his "sample painting" was of an expanse of ocean (probably) and quite realistic but also abstract. No hobbity stuff -- not even any shore. No Nemo. I couldn't get his "highest price at auction so far" because you have to be a member and I can't afford it. But on Fridays, the general public gets access to the bios and his reveals that his first break was painting backgrounds for computerized film -- you know, those faint bluey lavendar horizons we see in Star Wars, to be digitally inserted on a Blue Screen behind the actors and sets.

Very interesting. I'm not an artist. I write. I smell a novel. But I'd still rather read a reflective book about art by someone like the people posting here.

Prairie Mary

Posted by: Mary Scriver on December 16, 2005 6:27 PM

Dead thread now, but I just wanted to add: this was a terrific comments thread, a testimony to the site that the level of conversation on the comments is this high.

Posted by: MQ on December 19, 2005 5:49 PM

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