Among the responses to the last letter about the elements of landscape, there’s a note from Joe Zloty: “How important is it to have a house in your painting? Thomas Kinkade always has a house in there somewhere.”
This question and observation is worth taking a look at. “Home” is one of the basic elements of sentimentality. You can have the light-in-the-window, cozy kitsch, or a more subtle suggestion of the idea. In realism or abstraction it’s a matter of walls, roof, windows, doors, but it symbolizes one of the three basic human needs — shelter. Traditional homes often have an ultimate charm and understated humility. In light and shadow they’re fun to paint: cubes, forms, and yes, curves. But they do pack an emotional wallop if contrived to do so: big windows, smoky chimneys, pretty gardens, winding paths, welcoming doorways, all that stuff. Pulling out the stops for houses is also the stuff of psychologist’s tests — happy home life, honesty, safety, mom, dad, apple pie, even love.
Here on the Ring of Kerry, stone-built, potato-famine cottages have small and mean windows, low, plain doors, austere walls and roofs that seem to bend with guilt. There’s a sense of enclosure, perhaps a closed mind. While the houses may huddle, they also turn their backs as if avoiding and suspicious of one another in the sparse and unforgiving land. Picturesque, yes, but like Angela’s Ashes, there’s tension here.
This by way of asking Mr. Zloty to look for the message that his painted house might give. Further, he may choose to show his personality or his dreams when he paints his house. Or he may give his house a secondary role, almost inconsequential to the greater work, a place from which the subjects of his painting issue. Houses speak.
PS “Home is where the heart is.” (Anonymous)
Esoterica: “Home” is one of the most emotionally loaded words in all languages. The inclusion of it in a medium invites connection and visualization on the part of the observer. “Oh Aunt Em, I’ll never go away again. There’s no place like home.” (The Wizard of Oz)
The following are selected responses to this letter. Thank you for writing.
Intelligence and integrity prevails
by Cassandra James, Texas, USA
Your reply to the question about Thomas Kinkade’s house paintings was very generous, but I think it’s a disservice to serious painters to sidestep the issue of blatant sentimentality as a means of moving art, not dissimilar to the use of sex or violence in Hollywood. I’m not saying that powerful images should not be used in paintings, but if one must ask whether to include it, then it probably shouldn’t be there. The painting should speak for itself in terms of subject and style, without undue narrative explanation or cheap shots. Thomas Kinkade has saturated the art market with work that appeals to a very simple-minded art consumer. Naturally, taste is arbitrary, but work based on solid, enduring design principles prevails. My advice to your questioner would be to become thoughtfully engaged in the process of making art with attention to sources, psychological and environmental issues, technique and goals. Such art is made with intelligence and integrity and prevails.
Anthropomorphism in houses
by Francisco Fontana, Milan
You draw attention to the anthropomorphic qualities of houses and homes. This means the attributing of spiritual or personal values to otherwise inert objects. The word comes from the primitive belief in finding spirit or mana in stones. Here in Europe one can deduce a great deal from cottages, homes, castles, by the subjects themselves and the way they are drawn. Even the typical Gothic romance requires an edifice of some sort in order to give an idea what kind of beings may be encountered within: ghosts, monsters, maidens, knights, bumpkins, widows, etc. A lot of spin has been given in the past and will undoubtedly be given in the future to the artistic romanticizing of the concept of “home.” Painters do well to be aware and sensitive to this.
Genuine feelings only
by Mary Jean, Oakville, Ontario, Canada
The answer to Mr. Zloty’s question is not to put anything in a painting that you don’t have a genuine feeling for, whatever it might be. To put it there because it might sell the work, or be smart or cute or whatever cheapens art. If the element of a house/home says more about the rest of the content, by all means, but if it is only a ploy, you undervalue your talent.
Personal stuff works best
by Eleanor Blair, Gainesville, Florida, USA
The world is a very small place. Just moments before I received your latest letter (about houses) I had finished the layout of the invitation for my next show, which I am calling HOME: interiors, neighborhoods and personal spaces. A painting of my living room and my dog Velvet will be on the invitation. I am always surprised by how much people seem to like the most personal of my paintings; the ones I think couldn’t possibly be of any interest to anyone but me.
Differences in homes
by Hilda Granger, Minchinhampton, UK
Houses in themselves are the most interesting subjects (next to people) They are different in all parts of the world and very much depend on the availability of building materials. Mud, straw, bricks, logs, etc., etc., have been pressed into service. Here in the Cotswolds where we live we still have many thatched cottages and even fine homes which, with their gracious English gardens make lovely subjects to paint.
Sentimentality and sentiment
by William Cannon, California, USA
When talking about ‘home’ in the paintings of Thomas Kinkade, it is entirely about ‘sentimentality.’ In my work and in my writing courses, I distinguish between ‘sentiment’ and ‘sentimentality.’ Kinkade uses sentimentality like glucose, corn syrup, honey, and granulated sugar in a Mars bar; good for a quick rush, but devoid of any nutritional value. L. Frank Baum who wrote The Wizard of Oz knew how to write right up to the border of sentimentality, but maintained sentiment on the right side of the line. Baum was not playing with our heartstrings, he was serious about the dilemma of children growing up, especially Dorothy, who had evidently lost her mother and father. Kinkade plucks heartstrings for profit. Knowing the difference is a painterly key.
by Carol Lyons, Irvington, NY, USA
Thomas Kinkade is using the best marketing savvy for selling the most pictures in as many places as possible. My “House Portraits” in watercolor have been the most successful for making money but not the most exciting art projects for me. As an experimentalist my collectors are fewer, more focused, and special.
Run away home
by D C Hamm, Bronx, New York, USA
Art is the home. That’s why images of it are so precious. When we paint or sculpt or write about a home, we escape to that home. Both artists and observers live for a while in someone else’s skin. “Art is the only way to run away without leaving home.” (Twyla Tharp)
by Julie Rodriguez Jones, San Pablo, CA, USA
Denise Duncan had a good question in the previous responses (response title: Copyright problem). If Denise lives in the US, copyright is granted automatically. However, if the image was registered with the Library of Congress, (a very simple and inexpensive process) then you may receive damages in court. (See http://www.copyright.gov/fls/fl115.html which is the website for the US Copyright office.) The time frame for registering work after the date of creation is limited. Many people do not do this however because the fee is “per image/creation” which can amount to a rather tidy sum should you be prolific. I have done this but have been selective with the images I register. (Infringement cautions are at the bottom of my home page should you want to see what I say. See http://www.artfromthesoul.com
I have had a person unrightfully use an image who came to me in writing, admitting the use and saying, “so sue me.” The person knew exactly what Robert said, that lawyer’s fees eat up any possible gain. Fortunately the image was on a hosted web site and the site host removed the offending image as my copyright was glaring them in the face and I sent the host a copy of the person’s “so sue me” message. When the person said they were also going to use the image for a book cover, that motivated me to go start registering my artwork. I agree that Denise should advise the appropriate parties and but that should include the photographer, the publishing company and the magazine editors if for nothing other than 1) receiving an acknowledgment of her work printed in unmodified form in the magazine whenever their next issue may come out and 2) to educate/remind the photographer, publishing company and magazine of copyright law. I agree with Robert that remuneration is secondary.
Send a bill
Richard Berger, Newcastle-upon-Tyne, UK
Robert, your advice is okay but your asking price is too low — probably because you can afford “good will.” I estimate the value of reproduction rights to be nearer 50% of the selling price of the work of art. If it’s worth a thousand, Denise should send them a bill for 500. Many decent publications will pay up without much trouble. It’s the fear of the big unjust assessment that they worry about and try to fight.
(RG note) Images should also be billed out at different rates according to end use. A good comparison is the method used by slide banks. A full-page photo used as an ad for Daimler-Chrysler or Microsoft would be priced differently than an item included in a modest article or editorial. Further, it’s been my experience that there’s not much point in going for the authority of some artist’s organization or union, although there are times when it works because someone doesn’t want to be blackballed. Unfortunately, it’s something the artist must do for herself.