Friday, December 10, 2010

Thomas Kinkade could learn something about faith from the late David Wojnarowicz

Thomas Kinkade could learn something about faith from the late David Wojnarowicz

I’ve been following the David Wojnarowicz story and what bothers me about the issue is that the 13-minute video by the late artist, titled “A Fire in My Belly” (1987), is not anti-Christian as some Republican politicians have assumed. As far as Christianity is concerned the video is a reminder that some Christians tend to proclaim compassion and the virtue of Christ when in reality they rarely convey said compassion in dealing with others outside of their faith. In that sense the video is no more anti-Christian than works by Old Masters that explored the same contradictions of virtue that some Christian fall prey to. In fact, I know of one notable artist, who happens to be Christian, who could learn something about faith from “A Fire in My Belly”-- that artist being Thomas Kinkade.

Before I venture into my exploration of Thomas Kinkade I wish to make a few things clear. As a Christian-- and more importantly, as an individual-- I agree with the late David Wojnarowicz’s opinion. I’ve seen many Christians who turn their faith into a wall or simply don‘t live up to the standards they claim to adhere to. In my opinion religious faith, in general, should never be used in a way that serves as a barrier as far as understanding others. When faith becomes a wall it is clearly a structure of fear.

The actions of the conservative Republicans involved with the censorship of David Wojnarowicz “A Fire in My Belly” confuse faith with fear. In that sense, they stand as examples of the very Christians that Wojnarowicz criticized. Point blank-- faith should not, in my opinion, be a projection of ones inner fear. In fact, if ones faith is spurred only by fear I would suggest that he or she really consider how much faith is truly present in his or her life-- that goes for any religion as far as I’m concerned. As for practicing what one preaches, so to speak-- the clearest sense of blasphemy, in my opinion, is to subject others to moral standards that one does not personally live by.

An exhibit at the National Portrait Gallery is not going to trigger the end of Christianity, or any other religion for that matter, nor is it going to terminate the individual morals that people choose to have regardless of their chosen religion. That said, as far as Christianity is concerned the concept of free will is very clear-- believers could suggest that free will is one of the greatest gifts God has given to us. Thus, I’ve never really understood why some Christians strive politically to take away choices that individuals have. In that sense, it is unfortunate that the Wojnarowicz video was pulled because it offered a lesson that I think anyone, religious or not, could have learned from.

Attacking an artist with overzealous rhetoric when he is no longer here to defend himself is nothing more than masturbatory irrationality as far as I’m concerned. Especially when one considers that there are living artists who clearly have some explaining to do as far as their individual morals are concerned as fueled by the impact of their art on society. (No, I’m not suggesting that policing artists in that sense is acceptable-- my point is that the whole “A Fire in My Belly” issues is surrounded by irony.)

Point blank-- I’m not proposing a witch hunt by any means. That said, one could suggest that artists, such as Thomas Kinkade, are far more damaging to specific morals and to Christianity than the late David Wojnarowicz ever was. If politicians and other political personalities-- no matter which religious, political, or social extreme they adhere to-- must complain about the influence that specific art has on society, especially when religion is the focus, perhaps they should target living artists who are able to defend their art directly-- especially if the artist has made a direct impact on a large percentage of the population while being deceptive to that specific base. With that in mind, I doubt that we will hear Glenn Beck lashing out at Thomas Kinkade anytime soon.

In my opinion, the self-proclaimed ‘Painter of Light’, Thomas Kinkade, is a walking contradiction concerning Christian morals, Christian faith, and Christianity as a whole. That said, there are few examples of Christian groups or websites calling Kinkade out-- and, as far as I know, no examples of politicians targeting him for the corrupted influence that he has. Yet practically all of the Christian churches that I’ve visited have a print of one of Kinkade’s paintings boldly displayed-- and it is not hard to find online examples of some Christians harping about the “evil” of David Wojnarowicz’s video.

(Keep in mind that Thomas Kinkade has faced several allegations of sexual harassment over the years as well as allegations of fraudulent business practices. On top of that Kinkade has been noted for having a drinking problem which recently resulted in an arrest for a DUI.)

My Point-- Thomas Kinkade is a very influential artist within our society and ever-expanding culture-- though I realize that very few professionals within the mainstream art world would ever admit that even though he was once accepted by the New York gallery scene. Thomas Kinkade, for better or worse, is a household name just as Andy Warhol and Pablo Picasso-- some have suggested that 1 in 20 Americans own an example of Kinkade’s art-- so in that sense one could suggest that he is far more influential on the general public than the late David Wojnarowicz. That said, Kinkade does not exactly practice what he preaches, so to speak. Thus, one could suggest that his impact on Christianity-- in general-- is far more damaging than a 13-minute video that happens to explore, among other things, the flaws of some Christians.

If we must think on simple terms we should consider who is the greater threat. Who is more harmful to individual morals? An artist who criticized obvious flaws in respect to the faith and compassion that some Christians fail to convey-- or an artist who basis his artwork and market on ideology-- such as family values and the importance of marriage-- that he fails to represent in his own life while claiming the opposite? Consider that food for thought.

In closing, the politicians and political commentators who are lashing out at the late David Wojnarowicz should perhaps find another target for their motivations-- one who is imbedded within the very base they claim to represent. Better yet-- perhaps they should reexamine the difference between faith and fear-- as Wojnarowicz clearly explored in “A Fire in My Belly”. That said, extreme right-wing politicians and Thomas Kinkade-- in my opinion-- could learn something about faith from the late David Wojnarowicz.

Take care, Stay true,

Brian Sherwin


  1. Valid points. However I am bothered by the notion that in the end, no one is going to be able to live up to the ideals of Christianity other than Jesus himself. The best of Christians fall short of the mark, having a flawed life at least until being "raised incorruptible."

    That said, there is a need for people to stand and point out sins rather than winking at or glossing over the shortcomings. Toward that end, I believe you've steered the proper course in writing this article.

  2. I think part of what makes a Christian a 'good' Christian is to know their sins, accept that they make mistakes-- and that others do as well, and to not be so hard judging others for their choices. That said, sometimes you have to call it as you see it.

    I do want to make a point though-- I realize that many who criticize Wojnarowicz video have not bothered to view it or have only viewed the parts that they find offensive. They form an opinion and base their complaint on little information. A clear sign of fear.

    On that same note, many of the people critical of the Bible-- in general-- appear to have never actually read the text. Perhaps they form opinions about Christians out of fear with little information to back their view? Again, fear of what one does not understand becomes an issue.

    Even if you view the Bible as nothing more than a mere novel you will find that the 'characters' have all the flaws that you or I may have. Furthermore, it was not like Jesus hung out with the cream of the crop of his day-- his disciples were all flawed individuals.

    My point is that this idea that all Christians are some-how suggesting that people should be 'perfect' or whatever-- is not exactly true for the blunt of people who follow the Christian faith. Unfortunately, Christianity has been hijacked by televangelist’s to the point that their view of Christianity is what people, specifically those who are not Christian, tend to think all Christians are like.

    As for my views-- honesty is a very important aspect of being a Christian. I'm a very flawed person-- and I've never claimed to be otherwise. I don't create a front in how I deal with people-- what you see is what you get. Kinkade, in my opinion, is simply not being honest with himself, his business associates, or his fans. He has made Christianity his front. He has stamped his faith with a price tag.

    Kinkade may very well be a great person to be around-- but I have to call it as I see it. Especially when current issues-- and the surrounding contradictions-- are considered.

    As for Kinkade's art-- I think he could do more as a Christian and as an artist if he faced some of his flaws visually instead of clinging to the religious front that he has marketed himself with.

    I'm ranting. :)

  3. Your tweet leading to this thoughtful post caught my eye, because it seems we both were moved by this controversy to make some connection between Kinkade and Wojnarowicz. I mentioned TK at the end of my own rant :) on the matter, which also calls for people to actually take some action and sign a petition to the Smithsonian & NPG.
    At any rate, now that I've found your site, I'll look forward to more thought-provoking posts from you!

  4. Talk about irony - at the top of the page on which this post appears, there are two links to Thomas Kincade art products. Is there a mixed message here?

  5. Great article Brian, I am sharing it with FB and Twitter!

  6. Why are artists weaving a tangled web over this controversy, making insinuations about political agendas, so-called intolerance and Christian hypocrites forcing their views on others, etc.? This is really SO SIMPLE. As a Christian, artist, art teacher, American, and tax payer, I am well able to determine logical social guidelines:

    1. As a Christian artist, I create only work that does not steal the innocence of children, undermine their parents who are trying to shield them from cultural evils, or offend the Lord--He is the first JUDGE of my intentions behind the paintings, though I do not hold unbelievers to my standard--more on that to follow. However, I have a clear mandate in Scripture to confront unrighteousness whether I am comfortable doing it or not. I am sinning if I do not speak out against it.
    2. As an American tax payer, my 'voice' to create laws or limitations in society is my politicians. When my money is involved, I GET INVOLVED. I have every right to do so without being insulted for it, and they have the responsibility to act on my feedback to them. Also, as a taxpayer, I expect that displays of art in public venues with some public funding have limits--the limit is the general public taste, which is NOT hard to understand.
    3. Artists who are committing a form of public rape by forcing agendas on people who don't want to have such an experience are despicable. They give art and artists a bad name, and I for one am tired of proving to the public that I am not like that myself. How is this different from people who may or may not really be Christians who mar the image of other Christians?
    4. As an artist, it is my job to know my market and screen the appropriateness of my venues. There are venues for work that is controversial, albeit they are small (more proof that forcing your views/work/controversial agendas is like public rape). Therefore, it is only logical that artists who choose to create images that are not mainstream to push on a mainstream audience are breaking the logic of marketing--and their motive is to try to force some imagined 'right' to do so.
    5. As an artist/art teacher, years of experience have proven to me that anything creative is NOT 'fine art,' and people with agendas who try to break open boundaries to accept their new definition are like the Emperor who thought he was wearing new clothes, when in fact he was naked.

    Artists should expect controversy if they go fishing for it, since you usually get what you baited your hook for. I have run out of any patience for those who try to show some good in bad ideas by trying to expose other bad ideas. We need a high ideal and some heroes with higher ideals.