Thomas Kinkade - Catering to the Platonic Christianity of American Evangelicals

Joe Carter, over at First Things, offers a very astute criticism of the art of Thomas Kinkade (Kinkade's Cottage Fantasy). Carter doesn't dismiss Kinkade simply because he sells a tons of paintings to evangelical Christians. He actually praises many of Kinkade's paintings. But the criticism sure made me think. Here's a bit of it:

[Kinkade's] cottage scenes are...Anglo fantasies. Adults hang paintings of Kinkade’s paintings of cottages in their living room for the same reason that little girls put posters of unicorns and rainbows on their bedroom walls. It is a pseudo-referential nostalgia, a longing for what does not exist in reality but exists in the fantasy realm of possibility.

No other painting epitomizes this nostalgia for a place that never existed better than Cottage by the Sea.


As Kinkade explains, “Though this cottage doesn’t exist anywhere but in my painting, I think for many of us it represents an ideal seaside getaway. Of course, I had to paint the scene at sunset. After all, what would a seaside cottage be without a beautiful sunset to watch?”

What is so dispiriting about this painting is that rather than being created in order to be challenging or even inspiring, it’s intended only to be comforting. It invites the viewer to enter a world of unnatural nature, a world where the “light” comes from within, and the warmth comes not from the receding sun but from inside the walls of the perfect Anglo shelter.

The cottage is a self-contained safe place where the viewer can shut himself in and get away from the harsh realities of creation, particularly away from other people. The Cottage by the Sea offers a place where the viewer can enter the perfect world of Kinkade’s creation—and escape the messy world of Kinkade’s Creator.

Carter's critique has me thinking. Why are Kinkade's paintings so popular with American evangelical Christians? Here's my theory. Let me know what you think.

American evangelicals have been trained to think in very Platonic and/or neo-Gnostic ways about heaven. They believe (following Plato and the Gnostic heresy) that our ultimate destination is some heaven away from earth, a place where each person will experience their individual bliss. It will be a place that is away from this creation—this ugly, God-forsaken, sinful material world. They look forward to being whisked away to heaven; and they believe that this will be their final place of rest and comfort.

So, when they think of “heaven on earth,” they think of a Thomas Kinkade painting. They imagine a place where they are protected from this world, where there is a warm glow emanating from the windows, a place to feel safe and comfortable.

ht: Sam Van Eman


Anonymous said...

Is it nostalgia or is it longing/yearning? Will there not be beautiful sunsets to watch in the new heaven and new earth? Does it really have to challenge and inspire us from within the harsh and messy realities of the present? Is there not comfort in looking forward with hope to what is coming when everything is put right in this world? And might some of that not be a visit to the seaside?

PamBG said...

Here is a 'scary' thought: What if eternal life in the Kingdom of God isn't about 'my bliss' but about 'me learning how to be part of God's community'?

Bob Robinson said...

If we are made in the Perichoretic image of the Triune God, then that makes a whole lot of sense!

Sam Van Eman said...

Good thoughts, Bob. And thanks for the hat tip.

Ryan O said...

Interesting thoughts. I'm working on a research paper on the Evangelical following of Kinkade and kept going back to an essay I read on Aristotelian and Plutonic art. Thanks for getting my brain thinking!

The essay is titled "The Hollywood Divide" by Ron Austin. Check it out.