Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Arting While Intoxicated

Thomas Kinkade, Painter of Light, was arrested this weekend for drunk driving. It's good clean fun to mock Kinkade for his various moral failings but they're already well documented; likewise, I already made fun of his aesthetics at some length a year and a half ago in discussing his film, Kinkade's Kristmas Kottage (okay, not actually the title's initials, but so close). But let's chocolate-and-peanut-butter those ideas together and talk about how this DUI arrest may actually speak to us about his Art.

I seem to remember Mom once telling us about an art class she took whose teacher claimed that the composition of Rembrandt's "Night Watchmen" (and/or other similarly laid-out works of Rembrandt) had a possible biological basis: Rembrandt may have had a stigmatism which caused him to see sharply defined, brightly lit lines flanked by darker areas in real life, and reproduced this effect in his work. Style explained! I may not have some key aspects of that anecdote correct (uh, here is where I beg my mother to put a follow-up comment on my blog) but here is an Internet-based example of a moderately less risible take on this idea, which notes that Rembrandt's lack of color intensity and detail work could be a result of failing eyesight, but continues that the yellow cast of a late self portrait is also "consistent with deteriorating vision". I could see that last part as a deliberate expressive choice (as a musical analog, Bedrich Smetana allegedly included some simulated tinnitus in the last movement of his second string quartet) and perhaps I'm missing a key idea about vision here, but: If the world appeared overly yellow to Rembrandt, wouldn't paintings that looked normal to him appear overly purple to viewers with healthy vision? If a chef suffered a mild stroke that left her with a continuous, illusory taste of onions in her mouth, that wouldn't encourage her to add more onions to her food than she used to. Unless she was bitter about it and taking it out on her patrons.

But to return to the kooky Kinkade cavalcade: If we entertain the hypothesis that an artist's disordered vision leads to the reproduction of those visual symptoms in his work, we can achieve a new understanding of Kinkade's output. Rather than being lazily melodramatic gestures, empty nostalgia signifiers, or crass commercial ploys, the defining elements of his style -- the gauzy absence of detail, the cluttered scenery, the ubiquitous sources of attractive yet almost overwhelmingly bright light -- are in fact an authentic, unintended reproduction of the world as physically seen by a moderately aggressive drunk, whose slight pensiveness about his own imbalanced state is more than compensated by his alcohol-induced euphoria and boozy self regard.

As a thought experiment: If, hypothetically, you were a painter who had ordered eight or nine Jack and Cokes during a long, late-afternoon working lunch with your agent, and you walked out into the fading light of a winter afternoon buzzing with caffeine and liquor and an aggressive plan to franchise several dozen new retail outlets by the third quarter of the following fiscal year, and you contemplated driving home just as the vague feeling that you had forgotten to pick up the kids from basketball practice or something first began to take form in your gut, how would your visual system register the world at that moment?

Would it look like this?

Workshop of Thomas Kinkade, "There's a Lot of People out here, I'll Drive Careful Cause it's Real Slippery Too, Whoa is that Car Headed Right at Me", oil on canvas

Or this?

Workshop of Thomas Kinkade, "Whhuzzz, Who's House is that, Think I Better Pull in the Driveway and Rest my Eyes for Five Minutes", oil on canvas

Or, if the situation went badly off the rails by nightfall, even like this?

Thomas Kinkade, "Codpiece! CODPIECE!!", magic marker on reverse of crumpled-up Siegfried and Roy performance program

It's hard to see because of the image compression but if you look closely at that last one you can make out an unconscious male figure (Kinkade?) snuggled up against the outside of the church doors, having lost his coat and dropped his cell phone in the snow.

This is as much detail as I have time to provide now, but look for my scholarly monograph on this subject this holiday season at a mall kiosk near you! It should be the only serious academic work available featuring a plushy faux-leather cover and printed in a too-large, mawkishly sentimental, old style serif typeface.


Anonymous Mom said...

The anecdote was a little awry, but covered the essential points. In fact it was a psychology of aesthetics course, and the painter with astygmatism was Turner. As you point out, the resulting work should be a wash unless the the nearness of the canvas changed the severity of the deficit.

6/27/2010 11:05 AM  

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