The Light That is Earned

Yesterday I had The Talk with my 12th grade girl students.  --No, not that one; we had The Thomas Kinkade Talk.

Even posthumously, Thomas Kinkade and his art are incredibly divisive.  My students presented a pretty fair cross-section of common responses.  Some found his work to be beautiful, idyllic visions of places they would love to live.  His images calm them and give them peace, happiness -- sometimes, escape.  "I love that he wanted to bring people hope."  Others reacted against his work as saccharine, overly-sentimental images of places that exist nowhere in reality and seem to make no acknowledgment of the brokenness we see in the world.  "They're too perfect."  Some felt slight indignation at his workshop system or at the seemingly arbitrary attachment of Bible verses to his sweet cottage scenes.

JMW Turner, The Fighting Temeraire
Interestingly, this discussion arose from our study of JMW Turner and John Constable, 19th century landscape painters with opposing styles.  Some students loved the swirling drama and atmospheric haze of Turner's work; others sighed in appreciation of Constable's attention to detail and scenes of stable rural life.  Someone mentioned Kinkade as we looked at Constable's work, and the floodgates opened.

Kinkade's work is a very thought-provoking topic because it helps us sift through what we actually want out of a work of art.  The answer can be surprising.  Do you want art to give you a vision of the way the world could be, the way you want it to be?  Does such art fully respond to the question your heart cries out in response to the life you see around you every day?  Or -- do you want art to be "raw," honestly acknowledging the reality in which we must make our way?  Do you want the swirling skies and the troubled faces, the dark clouds encroaching on the verdant hills?  Or is there a third option?  Do you want both?  Are the little cottages or the beams of sunlight that do survive all the more beautiful and desirable precisely because they have survived a storm?

 Kinkade's painted world showed no signs of sadness.  No evil ever penetrated his glowing kingdom.  A peril-less place needs no saving.  Its light stands in contrast to nothing.  Give me Constable, whose people still had to walk under a storm cloud or two.  Give me Turner, whose suns emblazon the sky with a simultaneous terror and glory so recognizable.  Give me the light that is earned.  Give me the peaceful final chapter that stands firm beyond the tumult, whispering its ending into the howl of every storm that must precede it.  I am learning that it is good to behold them both, because without the one I cannot fully appreciate or desire the other.


Lindsey Domer said…
Very well written Ginny. Your students are lucky to have you as their facilitator! You are lucky to have such avid and exploratory students. :)

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