Thomas Kinkade, Persecuted Grifter

I recently returned from a cruise on the Royal Caribbean ship Mariner of the Seas (a redundant name, given that a mariner always ships on the seas).  We sailed from Galveston, to Honduras and Belize and Cozumel.  That doesn’t matter here.  Interestingly, they have art auctions on those ships, and the big draw is Thomas Kinkade and his works.  I suspect they sell thousands of dollars of Kinkade works on those ships, and they will do more in the future, now that he has died.  Fantasy Realism I will call those works, and I will call Kinkade a craftsman, and not an artist.  He knew how to show a bucolic scene with light shining through it, but that light was craftsmanlike.  He knew how to paint such as light showed through the subject of the painting.  It was a craft, not an art.  So?  Such a paltry “talent.”  Sure, many untutored “art” lovers esteemed his craft, and flocked to the supposed Christianity of his themes, chocolate box art, as it were.   But his is a mere craft, the ability to shine light throughout his canvas, through layering of color.  A waste, really, to those who understand art.  For there is a difference between craft and art, as there is a difference between art and manipulating the market. 

I mention this because Thomas Kinkade has died, but also because there is a movement to consider him a persecuted artist.  Lawrence Person claims so on his blog.  Alas.  Let’s make sure to note that while Kinkade marketed his art as Christian, and also that he embedded his wife’s name in his artworks, he was living with a girlfriend at his death.  That death has not been revealed as to its cause.  Here’s a bit from the LA Times: 

Kinkade’s family attributed his death to natural causes, though the exact cause of death will be determined by the coroner.

“We are shocked and saddened by his death,” his wife, Nanette Kinkade, whom he had been separated from for over a year, said in a statement.

In the last decade he had been locked in legal battles with former Thomas Kinkade Signature Gallery owners, some of whom accused him in lawsuits of trading heavily on his Christian beliefs even as he drove them into financial ruin.

He had battled alcohol abuse, former business associates said in court records and interviews, and in 2010 his mug shot went viral after his arrest on a drunk driving charge to which he later pleaded no contest.

No, this man was no hero of Christianity.  And he was no fine artist.  Indeed, he was no great business man, though he lined his pockets.  His business legacy was filed with bankruptcy and outsourcing, of cheating franchiseees.  He may have ben no more than a conman playing on religious sensibilities.  An Elmer Gantry, if you will, without Gantry’s redeeming factors.  From


Palmyra resident Jeff Spinello and his former wife, Karen Hazlewood, argued earlier this year that Media Arts Group Inc., Kinkade’s Christian-themed company, committed fraud by convincing them to invest $122,000 to open their galleries, and then ruined them financially.

They won $860,000 from Media Arts Group in a 2-1 American Arbitration Association decision and could receive as much as $3.5 million when the final award–which will include interest, arbitration costs and attorneys’ fees–is determined in the next few days.

Spinello and Hazlewood are the first dealers to defeat Kinkade’s Morgan Hill, Calif.-based company in arbitration. Media Arts had prevailed in at least three previous arbitration claims.

The former dealers’ lawyer, Norman Yatooma of Birmingham, Mich., is filing additional suits for 23 other Kinkade dealers, as well as two class-action suits and a racketeering suit on behalf of Kinkade’s shareholders and collectors.

“Most of my clients got involved with Kinkade because it was presented as a religious opportunity,” Yatooma said in a phone interview. “Being defrauded is awful enough, but doing it in the name of God is really despicable.”

I’m thinking Thomas Kinkade had much more in common with Jim Bakker than with any real artist.  Yes, he was a grifter, who gulled art dealers and then sank himself into bankruptcy, who outsourced his supposed work, and who represented himself as a Christian while cheating others and then getting caught drunk.  Yeah, he supposedly dedicated his works to his wife, but he left her for a trophy babe.  It is a shame he defrauded so many good Americans who didn’t know better.   It is a bigger shame that some bloggers out there are putting Thomas Kinkade up there as the latest persecuted Christian cause celebre.


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6 thoughts on “Thomas Kinkade, Persecuted Grifter

  1. Bob Ross has more talent. But neither have anything like an artistic vision.

  2. Craft can be art. I suppose real Kinkades, not outsourced, will be more valuable in the future than many “real artists” painting today.

    1. Kinkade was a fraud, a marketing sensation. He was not an artist. Still, I understand that the market might love him. Alas, that would be wrong, as art is concerned.

      Hey, what is a real Kinkade? Seriously, what is it?

  3. For me, art for art’s sake is nothing more than a decadent pastime for the idle rich, and occasionally a job for those who cater to them. I have far more respect for form following function. I’m with Morley Safer, except that I don’t care enough to ask “what is art?” I’m not judging others; it’s my personal choice.

    IMO the business of buying and selling art is a victimless crime. If you want to monetize anything from “draw Spunky” to Mona Lisa, you’re on your own. I don’t want to hear about it, good bad or ugly.

    I don’t know who Kinkade was, but it looks to me like him dying is a win-win all around. If he really was a disciple of Christ, he’s enjoying his ultimate reward. If not, then justice was served on him. People who like to play the dead artist game get to play another round. And people who play no productive role in society go on as usual. Whippy twang.

  4. I recall one summer day some [mumble] decades past, after a Spring semester during which my college’s respected art professor had won my co-ed girlfriend’s heart away.

    Back home for the break, several states distant, now I stood by a Sears store looking at the sofas on display, with examples of “sofa art” (as we called such paintings then) hung above them, also for sale — relatively inexpensive hand-brushed home decoration, which when hung singly above your own sofa wouldn’t look nearly as repetitive as when all hung together like this.

    The style was immediately familiar. The initials, too. But I asked about the artist anyway.

    The respected prof had taken care to market his quickie mass-productions with a specified sales exclusion area — a wide ring around the college. I happened to live outside the ring.

    On consideration, I laughed about it with my mother but never mentioned it to anyone at college. The man had the right to earn pocket money — who knew but that I might need to earn pocket money the same way myself someday? (I did later sell pen-and-ink prints for considerably less) — and the girl had made her own decision.

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