It’s doubtful Kinkades will hang in high-end galleries anytime soon, but a new anthology of scholarship on the artist shows that some intellectuals do take him seriously. Published in January, “Thomas Kinkade: The Artist in the Mall” (Duke University Press) collects ten academic works on the “Painter of Light,” including an exploration of Kinkade’s political leanings as expressed through his art.
In “Painter of the Right: Thomas Kinkade’s Political Art,” Micki McElya declares that Kinkade’s “art, message, and persona have resonated with conservatives who understand themselves to be locked in an epic cultural battle for the soul and future of the nation.”
“At the same time, his political art has been widely popular because it is rarely marketed as such overtly,” McElya writes.
McElya, an assistant professor of history at the University of Connecticut, goes on to write that his “images operate as potent and penetrating conservative propaganda” and that his “vision of nostalgic nationalism bathed in God’s light is widely representative of the suburban, racial, sexual, and economic politics of the Right . . . promoting whiteness, normative heterosexuality, Christianity, middle-class aspirations, and free-market radicalism as the core of ‘American values.’ ”
Kinkade’s conservative and religious beliefs are no secret. He visited George W. Bush several times in the White House and has spoken publicly about his Christian faith. But in recent works, like “Symbols of Freedom” (set in Washington) and “Hometown Pride” (a flag waves from a house), McElya argues that Kinkade has moved beyond merely inspirational and nostalgic imagery to adopt “the rhetorics of the Right” that seek “to equate ‘freedom’ with the Patriot Act, the War on Terror, and freewheeling global capitalism.”
For instance, “Where [Norman] Rockwell focused on individual Americans and private scenes, such as the iconic family Thanksgiving image depicting ‘Freedom From Want,’ Kinkade offers federal offices and centralized authority like the Department of Agriculture.”