Thomas Kinkade: Bad, not evil

By Felix Salmon
June 19, 2009

Hamilton Nolan is snarking gleefully over the fact that Thomas Kinkade, whom he calls “Painter of Darkness”, has lost a round of the endless litigation he’s been involved in for years now, ever since he took his company private in 2004. Now I’m no fan of Kinkade. But the plaintiffs in this case are trying to make a pretty astonishing case: that they’re owed damages on the grounds that Kinkade talked a lot about God, and thereby fraudulently persuaded them to place their trust in him.

This argument doesn’t really hold water, and in fact Kinkade has — justly — won the vast majority of the lawsuits which have been brought against him. I wrote about this case at some length back in March 2006, so I might as well just plagiarize myself here: Kinkade is more of a bad businessman than an evil one.

Kinkade took his business public in 1994, with a $110 million IPO. Between 1997 and 2005, according to Kim Christensen of the LA Times, he earned more than $50 million in royalties. And at the end of Jauary 2004, just over 9 years after going public, Kinkade bought back his company for $32.7 million – a price about $14 million higher than the company’s market capitalisation at the time. People who bought Media Arts Group at $20 per share, of course, weren’t particularly thankful that Kinkade paid them $4 rather than $2.30 for their stock. But the fact is that Kinkade was more optimistic about the outlook for his company than the markets were.

The people who ran Kinkade stores are upset at him, because he acted a bit like Chrysler towards dealers it ended up closing: Kinkade forced the dealers to buy expensive inventory which simply didn’t sell, and refused to accept returns unless they were accompanied by orders for three times as much art as was being returned.  Obviously, it was hard for the shops to make money in such circumstances. But I get the feeling they’re missing the forest for the trees: they weren’t losing money because of the decisions being made by Kinkade’s company, so much as they were losing money because they’d hitched their wagon to a company which was in a tailspin.

Obviously, they have every right to try to sue. But it’s pretty hard to make the case that one should expect better behavior from Christians than from non-Christians. And any company, once it starts failing, is going to result in people losing money. It’s also worth pointing out that virtually everyone who entered the Kinkade industry did so out of greed – not just Kinkade himself.

The store owners saw a booming market, and then lost money when the market stopped booming and the internet made secondary-market values of Kinkade’s work much more transparent. Suddenly, the enormous growth in past Kinkade sales was no longer a good thing: there were a lot of Kinkades to go around, and many of the buyers were people who bought on the assumption that their paintings would increase in value and they could make money on their investment. Up until the arrival of the internet, that worked for Kinkade, whose company set the prices for all his paintings and would raise them steadily. After the arrival of the internet, a whole industry arose buying and selling Kinkades at market-set, rather than Kinkade-set, prices. And that was the end of the success days for the company: without monopoly pricing power, Kinkade was nothing.

The stores failed, ultimately, not because Kinkade treated them badly, and not because other stores were undercutting them. The stores failed because Kinkades are a commodity, and anybody wanting to buy one could get a second-hand Kinkade online at a much lower price than that charged at retail. Buyers no longer believed that their paintings would increase in value, so they bought fewer than they used to. And when they did buy, they were likely to buy already-existing Kinkades rather than new ones.

As a general rule, no retailer has ever consistently been able to make money by selling the proposition that his goods are going to increase in value after they’re bought. Kinkade managed it for a few years, but then, inevitably, the bubble burst. And when bubbles burst, people get hurt. It’s not the fault of Thomas Kinkade, it’s simple market dynamics.

Comments
53 comments so far

Kincade’s Disney work sold out because it’s Disney, not just because it’s Kincade. I admit the Peter Pan print is impressive, but it’s not my cup of meat. I dislike most of Kincade’s art because it generally seems hollow and unreal to me – especially his early works – neat, tidy, perfect buildings with light glowing in the windows like those plastic holiday villages you can buy at craft stores late in the year. They seem lifeless to me, as though the lights are on, but there is literally nobody home. Since it keeps coming up, incongruously, I’ll add that my favorite artist is Remedios Varo, followed very closely by Maxfield Parrish who, so far as I’m concerned, blows Mr. Kincade out of the Light Painting waters. I make jewelry, some of it quite odd, I write stories, and I am a sketch artist. My father is an artist, and I have been brought up with an appreciation of everything from painting to sculpture to metalwork to architecture. Oh, yes. Another of my favorite artists is Antonio Gaudi. Cliched, I know, but I genuinely love his fantastical, visceral buildings. They make me smile, and remind me of walking into someone else’s dream.

Kat (In my name, and in the names of all my ancestors)

Posted by Personage | Report as abusive

I have always loved Thomas Kincaids’s paintings. I think they’re beautiful and well done. It’s really sad when you’re persecuted for your faith. Jealousy and covetousness will drive people to destroy others. This is all about jealousy and destruction.

Posted by baebae44 | Report as abusive

It seems to me that there are four main reasons why people don’t like Thomas Kincade:
1) He has been quite successful financially in his business
2) His style of artwork doesn’t appeal to them
3) The manner in which his work is produced appears inauthentic to them
4) They have been burned financially due to their business relationship together

It would be a tough case to argue that Thomas Kincade has not been successful in his business. He has made millions. To build up a company and name recognition like he has and to have generated millions of dollars in revenue from scratch is astounding. I challenge anyone to repeat that process if they disagree.

If you happen to like Thomas Kincade’s artwork then great, you have no problem with his sucess. If his style doesn’t appeal to you because you think it’s kitsch, too syrupy sweet, or without substance then the fact that he has been so successful financially is a little dumbfounding and leads one to believe that he must have manipulated people somehow.

As for the way that he produces his work, his “prints” are created with the available technology of the day. I have gone to art school and studied printmaking -relief printing, lithography, intaglio, silkscreen. In their time those were all the high tech ways of producing a series of identical images. I find woodblock printing and intaglio printing more appealing because of the archaic, physical nature of the process, and the visual and physical qualities of the print -the emboss and the way the process informs the character of the image. Therefore giclee prints and canvas transfers are not my cup of tea.

Does it matter if someone else dabs paint on the canvas or if the work is “signed by a machine?” It matters only if that is important to you. Did Thomas Kincade design and produce the original painting before it was recreated in the print? Yes. If someone is buying a print because they think it is an actual painting then that is misleading and material misrepresentation. If they are buying a print with paint dabbed on the surface because it adds to their enjoyment of the piece then so be it. The value of a work of art is determined merely by what others are willing to pay for it.

If someone is disgruntled with Thomas Kincade because of a bad business decision then they really have themselves to blame. No one is forcing an individual into business with Kincade. Investment and business relationships are speculative. You can win and you can lose, and it’s up to you to make the appropriate decision given the terms of the business arrangement.

Am I a Kincade fan? I bet you can tell by looking at my artwork.

Posted by noahmakesart | Report as abusive
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