Artists in the News – George Rodrique and Thomas Kinkade

Paradoxes, Purposes and Ponderances

I have read about two artists recently making news. Both have demonstrated some commercial success in the business world, and both have found ways to market their artwork in a way that appeals to a broad audience.

One of these artists I admire for his artistry and his methods of commercializing his images. The other makes me want to yell “bleh!” because of both his artistic and business practices.

Blue Dog
Artwork by George Rodrique

George Rodrique, painter of the iconic Blue Dog paintings that have become a part of pop culture, is the artist I admire. His images became widely popular by Absolute Vodka in 1992. He has been in the news recently because a thief brazenly walked into his gallery and stole two of his paintings.

The paintings have since been recovered, however, as of this writing, the thief has not been caught.

Thomas Kinkade
Artwork by Thomas Kinkade

Thomas Kinkade, self proclaimed “Painter of Light”, is the artist who has earned my disdain. Aside from the fact that he was recently arrested for drunk driving and has been under fire for his business practices, I find his artwork pithy and formulaic.

Kinkade’s business methods have been called predatory, taking advantage of people who are drawn to his overt sentimentality and exploitation of Christian faith. His artwork has been dismissed as kitsch by most people in artistic circles.

I find both of these artists’ stories interesting as I explore the world of business and the world of art – two worlds that are separate, but do necessarily converge at times. Sometimes the convergence creates compatibility, sometimes not.

Both Rodrique’s and Kinkade’s artworks appeal to a broad audience. They both have a “man/woman on the street appeal”. Aside from their business practices, I find one’s artwork to be valid (Rodrique), but the other not (Kinkade). Is this because of my own tastes, or is it because there is an inherent validity to one artist’s work that is not there for the other artist?

Every man or woman who goes into business for him or herself must contend with a number of  issues and concerns. You have to develop a legitmate business model and you must subscribe to ethical practices to stay in business. I am struggling with these issues as I work on developing my own business.

Not that ethics and legitimacy are a struggle for me – I am simply learning about disciplines that are completely foreign to me.

Artists, however, have other struggles unique to their creative role in society that are layered into the dilemmas of being in business.

Most artists are compelled to create from a need for self expression and a desire to develop new images, designs and forms. Although we want to sell our work, our motivations for creating are deeper than simply endeavoring towards commercial success. In addition to making a product for sale, we are creating artworks that have purpose beyond their commercial value.

Artists who create purely for the sake of appeasing popular demand and lose their other purposes for creation are generally dismissed as “selling out” by the artistic public.

Rodrique paints the same blue dog over and over again. Some might say that represents a pandering to an audience for commercial rather creative purposes. I would disagree. I see a difference in each painting – differences in color choices, composition and background – that make each one unique and special. A  joy in the creative process is evident in each work.

Although his images are reproduced on various products, Rodrique’s work always seems to have credibility to me.

The average person can buy Rodrique’s art on commercial products once his creative process is complete. Or the connoisseur can buy an original for $30,000.

Kinkade, however, paints paintings that seem to be shallow throwbacks to 18th Century romantic paintings that have been done over, and over and over again. There is no unique subject matter and the style is limited and formulaic.

I want to be like George, even if it means someone could come and steal a painting off my wall.

What do you think? What are your thoughts about artists mixing creative and commercial motivations?

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5 comments

  1. Artbysue says:

    I know you don't watch tv but last night on BRAVO's new show- The Next Great Artist this same battle more or less was played out in the show's challenge. The artist's were to design a book over (commercial art). As you might expect some of the artists did well and others did not- although they are all 'good' artists obviously or they would not of been on the show. The artist who was eliminated was a successful 'Fine Art' artist (her words) where as the judges choice had a bold, colorful, striking and more graphic art style that would draw someone's attention to a book. The woman who was eliminated was clearly out of her element but i still wouldn't say one was bad and the other good. (Well in this case she didn't do very well because she completely lost perspective on the goals of making a book cover. ) I would say one was a good fit in this situation and the other wasn't. The show actually was quite comical– lots of tears and anxiety over this assignment.

    My thoughts on mixing creative and commercial motivation would be that for some its a good fit. For others it is not. I have a hard time with absolutes when it comes to art. I love the 'no rules' aspect of art and although its good to have discussions like this I think trying to make art fit into any one box will never work. Art evolves or it goes stagnant. I give George credit for his ability to keep his art fresh (if he is indeed still feeling fresh or just rich). I would get bored painting the third dog. But thats me. Would I do it if someone paid me 30,000? I don't know– probably but I don't know how long that would last before it drove me crazy. Is having a very limited focus a hallmark of commercial art? Surely you can't go willy nilly in style or technique or subject and still be commercial. These two prove that to be the case. Its not right or wrong– it just is. So maybe that is the absolue of art– it just is what it is!! 🙂 And we just are who we are- if fate, skill, marketing, opportunity, desire and money all line up in the right way then that great big break will open up for whoever the public will love next. If that is what happens for you BZtat than that would be fantastic. I do know it won't happen if someone isn't willing to do the ground work and promotion. It would be interesting to me to see these men's earlier work and hear their 'big break' stories.

  2. BZTAT says:

    I thought I would share a dialogue re: this post that took place on a Facebook thread:

    Paul –Couldn't leave a comment to your blog, but I have to say Kinkade's work generally makes me gag a little, and George Rodrigue's makes me smile.
    Both are commercial artists to me though, and their paintings are geared to gain public affection, and they do so. How long they will do so is moot – art should be fun and reassuring too, sometimes!
    “$30,000? Golly!

    Bz Tat – Paul–what makes an artist “Commercial” and is that a bad thing?

    Paul – Not bad at ALL! I think commercial art often pulls on current flavors? It appeals because it is recognizable as having something to do with 'the now' – and that sometimes holds a universal (time and place) element too.

    Oh.. and it is painted for sale above all things. But is THAT a bad thing? Nope. People buy what is appealing to them! So… commercial art is often very appealing to the contemporary audience : )

    Bz Tat – If you create for your own artistic purposes, and it happens to have commercial appeal, does that make it commercial art?

    Paul – Probably? One may tap into the current visual 'buttons'? Sometimes this happens unwittingly, and at other times it happens wittingly.
    The main thing (I think) is that people enjoy what they are looking at (in the visual arts) and it moves them in some way.
    I think true commercial artists very often gear their work to the market though.
    Doesn't much matter what the impetus stems from – if people enjoy, people enjoy! And that is not a bad thing, surely?

    Bz Tat –Not a bad thing at all. Yet many think that an artwork that has commercial appeal has less intrinsic value.

    Many of Rembrandt's works were created for commission and thus, commercial purposes. Yet he is considered a master. Contemporary artists who create works for commission are said to be selling out.

    Paul – Nah. I don't think so at all!
    Selling out is only when you give up all intention of exploring new horizons (if that is what the artist in you wants to do) and just paints to order REGARDLESS of your own leanings.
    Authenticity is the key, I guess?
    If what one does is authentic to oneself, then it will be a developing thing over time. We, none of us, stay static. Our artistic expression is likely to follow that.
    Yes?

    Bz Tat –Well said! My thoughts exactly! Been grappling with this issue, if you read my blog a bit. I feel strong with my purposes and intentions, and despite the fact that I seek to sell and make a career from my art, I do not give up the intention to explore new horizons. And I do not paint to order. I feel blessed that my patrons give me freedom to interpret creatively as I see fit.

    Paul – Most artists I know wish to sell their art (if they put their work up for sale) and all seem concerned with the 'validity' of intention behind that. There are many approaches, and all are valid if they are authentic – in my book.
    The litmus test is….
    Would the artist still be painting if their work did NOT sell? If they would, then they have a driving need to explore the visual and are, in my opinion, artists : )

    Bz Tat –We are singing in the same choir, Paul. : ) Artists need not starve. Yet we are encumbered with deeper intentions than simple commercial success. if we lose those deeper intentions, the artwork suffers, and we lose a piece of our soul.

  3. BZTAT says:

    Groaaaaaaannnnnnn…..The Next Great Artist reality show????

    Reality shows are famous for taking people and shaping them into a commercial item, homogenizing talent into personality-less pop. I do not hold out much hope for that show furthering the arts much. Whatever is unique and special is likely to be beaten out of the artists as the producers make them into what THEY want them to be, not what they are.

    To me, that is what commercial art is. Creating out of someone else's vision for a commercial purpose, and not your own.

    I never tire of painting the original Beezie-tat, who is the black and white tuxedo cat that I use for my avatar. Even though I paint her, and my current brood, over and over, each painting is different and has a different focus. Although they do tend to sell well, I create them for the joy of painting, not for the commercial purpose.

    And if I could make $30,000 on a painting, I would be painting what I wanted to paint, not what someone else wanted me to do, JUST BECAUSE I COULD!

  4. Artbysue says:

    I actually enjoy the show… I would prefer to see more of the art making but from a general public perspective that may not be as interesting to as many people. I like learning about the artists, their personalities and thought process and seeing what they create with different challenges.

    I think you missed my point– if YOU enjoy what you are doing then YOu don't need to explain or justify it– just do it. 🙂 And then don't care about whatever label someone wants to put on it– who really cares? I don't think labels need apply in art– if you are happy with what you are choosing to do then paint away and be happy!! 🙂

  5. Whskr says:

    I am sorry but I just don't like Thomas Kincade at all. It's not even nice stuff. It's flogged on QVC in the U.K. as wonderful art and it's really just not nice.

    There is nothing wrong with being commercial – art in most shape or forms is commercial – right if the artist wants to sell it? I cannot fathom the appeal of Kincaid though – maybe it's just soft and safe and sentimental and real life isn't like that. It's soppy, just soppy and it reminds me of an American art period (the name escapes me) that was just SO hard to look at because it seemed so wrong.

    I confess to not knowing a lot about Mr Rodrigue but his work has an appeal and quality missing in the Kincade's work.

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