Generous Orthodoxy  

Saturday, April 21, 2012

Two artists, two visions

On Sunday, April 8, the New York Times obituary page displayed the most extraordinary juxtaposition of obituaries that I ever hope to see. On the left side, a large picture of one of Thomas Kinkade's floridly sentimental paintings accompanied the announcement of his premature death at 54. On the right side, the death of Mauricio Lasansky at 97 is announced with a reproduction of  two of his almost unbearably horrific "Nazi drawings." It would be hard to imagine a more challenging combination on one page.

Many, perhaps most, people would not have the stomach to peruse the Lasansky drawings. They were exhibited at the University of Iowa Museum of Art in 2006. They can be seen online, with a helpful commentary, at

I have long been disturbed by Thomas Kinkade's mass-marketed pictures, which are displayed in Kinkade shop windows all over America, often in upmarket locations. Not only are they sentimental, they are untruthful (and that amounts to the same thing, in the final analysis). He wants us to believe in an utterly unreal world of shimmering waters, flawless landscaping, quaint cottages, picturesque little churches, unreal "spiritualized" lighting--a world that never existed and never could exist. Not only does this encourage a fairytale concept of Christianity, it is also excruciatingly bad art. It is distressing to think that supposedly educated people are unable to distinguish good art from bad. Kinkade's marketing genius enabled him to pull in megamillions, and he estimated that one in ten American households had one of his paintings on its walls.

Lasansky, in his horror-filled series of drawings (which should be viewed in order, since they are a sort of narrative), makes much use of crucifixion imagery, while explicitly charging the Church with complicity in the Holocaust. There are complexities and depths here, but it cannot be denied that the atrocity occurred in the center of Christian Europe. It could not have happened if the churches had risen up as one. The failure of so many (though not all) self-identified Christians to protest or act will--and should--haunt us until the Second Coming.

Addendum: After I wrote the above, I saw an article about Kinkade in the Wall Street Journal reporting that he died "after a night of heavy drinking." What tragic irony. Kinkade wanted to paint "a world without the Fall" but, like all the rest of us, could not free himself from the fallen world. The article, "Art in a Fallen World," is quite's the "Houses of Worship" column by Gregory Wolfe.

And by the way, the remarkable appositions are multiplied by the third obituary on the same page in the Times, being the notice of the death of the book editor who saved The Lord of the Flies from oblivion by putting it into paperback, thus sending sales soaring, leading to its becoming part of the canon for students. William Golding's famous novel with its deeply pessimistic view of human nature could serve as a commentary on the other two obituaries, those of Kinkade and Lasansky.