I’ve been thinking about this for a couple of days now. Even now I am not sure what my take away will be by the time I finish. Maybe that will be up to you…
I have a long history with Thomas Kincaid-“Painter of Light.” Remember him? At one point 1 in 20 American Homes had a Thomas Kincaid painting hanging on their wall. One year he grossed $130 million. He managed to touch a place in people’s hearts that no other artist could reach. And many of them were critical and clearly jealous and bitter over his wild success. Kincaid had 2 main trademarks. One, he brought light and warmth to an otherwise average painting and two, he made us want to visit or live in those cottages or go to church in that glowing, snow covered chapel.
My journey of familiarity with Kinkade’s work started when I got married. One of my great aunts and her daughter owned an art gallery in Duncan’s Mill, California. As a wedding gift, she gave us a numbered print of a church in a quaint, wintery town. It hung on my wall until this year (when I repainted and decided I was ready to change my decor. I may have to hang it back up after I finish this blog…). In Vallejo, California, a Thomas Kinkade development was actually launched. It crashed with the rest of the housing market, but it’s purpose was to create a place of “calm not chaos. Peace not pressure.” I have visited one of his art galleries in Carmel and at some point I purchased a Christmas Devotional that was written and illustrated by him. I have read it every Christmas for the past 15 years. He talks about his faith openly in this book as well as in many interviews. On the bottom of most of his inspirational paintings he writes “John 3:16” with a fish symbol next to it. You can find a nauseating amount of knick-knacks, ornaments, bookmarks, etc. that tout his work at Christian Bookstores everywhere. When he writes, he speaks fondly of his wife, Nanette, and his four daughters. The home he depicts is one we all would long to be a part of, especially at Christmas-time. The cover of my devotional says “Thomas Kinkade spends his days creating beautiful worlds where light dances and peace reigns.” Only that’s not entirely true.
On April 6, 2012, at the age of 54, Thomas Kinkade died of an overdose. The papers said, “Who could have imagined that behind so many contented visions of peace, harmony and nauseating goodness lay just another story of deception, disappointment and depravity, fueled by those ever-ready stooges, Valium and alcohol?”. It makes me wonder how many of his pictures are hanging in those homes now? Did they take them down when they learned that the man behind the mood was a drunk? I took mine down for superficial reasons, but as I am learning more about this battle of his, it actually makes me want to put it back up. What Thomas WANTED to say in His work, what he DID say, is that we all long for that place where we can feel “peaceful, happy, and free” as we say in recovery. In one article, he referred to his pieces as “silent messengers in the home,” and was unapologetic about his almost clinical efforts to make his work uplifting. “Every element in my paintings, from the patch of sun in the foreground to the mists on a distant horizon, is an effort to summon back those perfect moments that hang in our minds as pictures of harmony,” he once wrote in Lightposts for Living. “My deepest desire is that my work will help people aspire to the life those kinds of images evoke.” In another article he says of his paintings, “It’s not the world we live in, it’s the world we wished we live in. People wish they could find that stream, that cabin in the woods.” And yet, the disease of alcoholism hijacked this dream and drug him to the pit of despair. By the end of his life he was separated from his wife and girls and living with his girlfriend. One night, he drank too much and took valium and never woke up.
So, what? I don’t know exactly. Looking back on the article, I just read that even though his death ended in a way that opposed the very values he spent his life’s work depicting through word and art, sales are actually rising. What a relief. I have seen, on a personal level and in more public venues, what can happen when people of faith fall. The greater tragedy comes when those who were once inspired by such a person, turn their backs on them in disgust when their humanity rises up and takes over. When they display weakness or succumb to a sin that we cannot seem to forgive. I have heard first-hand stories of people inflicted with the disease of addiction and how they hurt those they loved and did or said things that contradicted their core beliefs. NONE of them say that they enjoyed being a bad parent or unreliable friend or hateful husband. And even without addiction as an explanation, haven’t we all behaved in ways that were not consistent with how we desire to live? I don’t have to be an addict to act like a self-willed, self-focused self-indulgent person. My goal each day is to love God and love people more and better than I did yesterday. But sadly, by the end of the day, my review of what I did tells me that the person I loved and served most was me. I guess one of the things I am trying to say is this: suspend judgment. There are people around us everyday who are acting in ways that are counter to who they really desire to be. There is no end the the obstacles that keep them, and me, from succeeding. Keep this story in your mind as you spend time with family, friends and co-workers who you feel like strangling. Instead of running around frazzled and stressed out and angry because of the pressures of the Christmas season, try to empathize with those whose hearts are living in chaos, grief and anxiety. Maybe YOU can be that “peaceful stream, that cabin in the woods”. Maybe you can help someone be touched by the glow of light on on otherwise dull painting. If you are one of those people who long for that light, and like Thomas Kinkade just can’t seem to reach it, get help. Find recovery. Find God. Find friends. Find me. I believe the words of the scripture: “For God comforts us in all our affliction so that we in turn may comfort others in the same way we have been comforted by God.” God has brought me through much. He has given me “comfort” in my soul. If I can help you find that comfort, I will. Most of us are either one version of Thomas Kinkade or the other, depending on the day. Let’s help each other out.