AABP Award 728x90

BERKO: Deconstructing the value of art


Dear Mr. Berko:

In 1993, my husband and I purchased two Thomas Kinkade scenic paintings for $28,000. We think they are beautiful and still marvel at the colors and scenes. We are cleaning house, getting rid of lots of kitsch and clutter that we accumulated during our past 50 years of marriage and travel and were surprised to learn that the buyer placed such a low value on our Kinkades. While we do not wish to sell them, we were astonished to discover that a Kinkade is virtually worthless and we were offered $1,600. We have seven other pieces of art that have appreciated significantly in value and can’t imagine why a Kinkade would be almost worthless. And by the way, the only piece of art we are selling is a Picasso we inherited in 1986, only because it is so hideously ugly. In fact, we hide it in a guest bathroom. Can you tell us why Thomas Kinkade has lost its value? He recently passed away, and it seems that his work should be worth more.

H.G., Rochester, Minn.

Dear H.G.:

I think Thomas Kinkade, known as the Painter of Light, was a genius. He enthralled millions of Americans with nostalgic, Norman Rockwell notions of bucolic, rural life, when things were exactly as they seemed to be and all things appeared untarnished, uncomplicated and wholesome. Rockwell painted people, while Kinkade painted Arcadian cottages, meandering streams, pastoral villages and enchanting garden paths. Aficionados like you probably hear the harmony and melody in his colors and feel the poetry of his images. Personally, I can’t stand his work, though I am in awe of his skill and technique. And I hold Kinkade in significantly higher esteem than Christo, who wraps cities in pink and plastic slime, or a guy called Warhol who copies Campbell Soup cans and dollar bills.

Inarguably, visual art is defined as the representation of a subject in the form of a painting, a sculpture or a composition from materials such as rock, metal, glass, plastic, etc. However, the prices paid are determined by the collective, subjective opinions of a confluence of tittering, high-strung poseurs with unctuous personalities who compete for approval and social standing among the glitterati of the art world. The importance of their opinions is a function of the esteem in which the poseur is held by the effete gadflies who write about the artists, the galleries that boast their work and the fawning wannabes who suck up to all of them. However, the final imprimatur derives from the colony of the uber-wealthy whose status among themselves is measured by the millions with which they’re willing to outspend each other for a De Kooning, a Wyeth or a Dali. Frankly, it’s quite similar to the stock market.

Kinkade was ridiculed and called a heretic by the art world because he refused to abide by its incestuous, self-serving boundaries. Kinkade poked holes in their inner sanctum; therefore, they didn’t look down their noses at him but looked down their chins at him. You won’t see a Kinkade hanging in the Museum of Modern Art, the Guggenheim or any of the galleries of New York, London or San Francisco in the next 30 or 40 years. But I believe his originals will gain currency in several generations as the faux guard passes the torch. But Kinkade enthralled Americans. His exquisite reproductions (few originals) of idyllic landscapes and spiritually themed paintings continue to hang in millions of American homes. Your originals (if they are originals) are worth a fraction of the thousands you paid 20 years ago. And because Kinkade so thoroughly commercialized his art, selling more than $100 million annually of prints, numbered prints, signed prints and other reproductions, it will take decades to separate the wheat from the chaff. Though eventually, your originals may take their place among some of the finest art of the 20th century and hang in those august temples of approval.

You bought Kinkade because his art appealed to you. I doubt you bought them hoping in 10 years they would sell for a huge profit. Keep them hanging where they’ve been for 20 years, continue to enjoy their beauty, then pass them in your will to an appreciative, younger family member. I suspect that the second owner will enjoy a higher value.

hy vee web 090123 300x250