Thomas Kinkade

The Artist in the Mall

Thomas Kinkade

Book Pages: 320 Illustrations: 35 illustrations, incl. 13 in color Published: February 2011

American Studies, Art and Visual Culture > Art Criticism and Theory, Cultural Studies

Often featuring lighthouses, bridges, or quaint country homes, Thomas Kinkade’s soft-focus landscapes have permeated American visual culture during the past twenty years, appearing on everything from Bibles to bedsheets to credit cards. Kinkade sells his work through his shopping-mall galleries, QVC, the Internet, and Christian stores. He is quite possibly the most collected artist in the United States. While many art-world and academic critics have dismissed him as a passing fad or marketing phenomenon, the contributors to this collection do not. Instead, they explore his work and its impact on contemporary art as part of the broader history of American visual culture. They consider Kinkade’s imagery and career in relation to nineteenth-century Currier and Ives prints and Andres Serrano’s Piss Christ, the collectibles market and the fine-art market, the Thomas Kinkade Museum and Cultural Center, and “The Village at Hiddenbrooke,” a California housing development inspired by Kinkade’s paintings. The conceptual artist Jeffrey Vallance, the curator of the first major museum exhibition of Kinkade’s art and collectibles, recounts his experiences organizing that show. All of the contributors draw on art history, visual culture, and cultural studies as they seek to understand Kinkade’s significance for both art and audiences. Along the way, they delve into questions about beauty, class, kitsch, religion, and taste in contemporary art.

Contributors. Julia Alderson, Alexis L. Boylan , Anna Brzyski, Seth Feman, Monica Kjellman-Chapin, Micki McElya, Karal Ann Marling, David Morgan, Christopher Pearson, Andrea Wolk Rager, Jeffrey Vallance


“[A] wide-ranging, incisive interpretation of one of the most popular yet polarizing artists of our time. Whatever you may know or think about Kinkade, this book will press you to consider his work and the significance of its popularity in new ways.” — Michael Clapper, AHAA Reviews

“Edited by art historian Alexis L. Boylan and published by a major university press, this book challenges Kinkade’s exclusion from the art world’s rarefied discourses. In so doing, it surely counts as something of an event. . . . Perhaps the primary benefit of this book lies in the skill with which it teases out the vagaries of the art world’s love-hate affair with its own significant Other: mass culture.” — Joachim Pissarro and David Carrier, Artforum

“This collection illuminates controversial currents in the contemporary art world and consumer culture. Though focused on a single artist, the debates over what constitutes art in a postmodern world, where art ends and commerce begins, the ubiquity of branding and marketing; and the social politics of cultural production and consumption transcend Kinkade’s work and can be used to analyse other developments in contemporary society.” — Judith R. Halasz, Visual Studies

“Whether you love or hate ‘the painter of light,’ this collection of essays will both affirm your view and challenge it. . . . Readable yet scholarly, this book bridges the same sectors Kinkade’s work does, and is deserving of a broad audience. Highly recommended. Lower-level undergraduates and above; general readers.” — E. K. Mix, Choice

“At last, a thoughtful book on Thomas Kinkade. This is much more than a case of visual studies replacing art history with social and economic analyses: the contributors wrestle with value, quality, irony, self-reflexivity, aesthetics, taste, complexity, class, religion, nostalgia, and kitsch. Despite what several authors argue or hope, this excellent book implies Kinkade is very much a part of contemporary fine art: he troubles the discourses of art history, art theory, and visual studies in just the way an exemplary artist should.” — James Elkins, author of On the Strange Place of Religion in Contemporary Art

“This excellent anthology is a significant contribution to scholarship at the interstices of art practice, art theory, and popular culture. It is an erudite book that brings together diverse approaches to Thomas Kinkade’s work and ‘culture,’ yet maintains a surprisingly even quality of thought and writing.” — Maria Elena Buszek, author of Pin-Up Grrrls: Feminism, Sexuality, Popular Culture


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Open Access

Author/Editor Bios Back to Top

Alexis L. Boylan is Assistant Professor in Residence in the Art and Art History Department and Women’s Studies Program at the University of Connecticut.

Table of Contents Back to Top
Illustrations vii

Acknowledgments ix

Introduction / Alexis L. Boylan 1

Thomas Kinkade and the History of Protestant Visual Culture in America / David Morgan 29

Painter of the Right: Thomas Kinkade's Political Art / Micki McElya 54

God in the Retails: Thomas Kinkade and Market Piety / Seth Feman 81

Brand-Name Living from the Painter of Light / Karal Ann Marling 107

Purchasing Paradise: Nostalgic Longing and the Painter of Light / Andrea Wolk Rager 124

Repetition, Exclusion, and the Urbanism of Nostalgia: The Architecture of Thomas Kinkade / Christopher E. M. Pearson 143

"A Temple Next Door": The Thomas Kinkade Museum and Cultural Center / Julia Alderson 165

Thomas Kinkade's Heaven on Earth / Jeffrey Vallance 191

Manufacturing "Masterpieces" for the Market: Thomas Kinkade and the Rhetoric of High Art / Monica Kjellman-Chapin 206

Art Ethics: Thomas Kinkade and Contemporary Art / Anna Brzyski 238

Bibliography 259

Contributors 275

Index 277
Sales/Territorial Rights: World

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Additional InformationBack to Top
Paper ISBN: 978-0-8223-4852-8 / Cloth ISBN: 978-0-8223-4839-9
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