I Want Some Art Too

Earlier this morning I read a story about Thomas Kinkade in The Washington Post and near the end I found an interesting quote.

“But it did not endear Kinkade with the art establishment, who criticized him for appearing to appeal to the widest possible audience.”

Heaven forbid somebody with talent tries to do something that the rest of us like.Now for the record, I know he had a problem with alcohol, had some financial setbacks, and his wife left him two years ago. But I am not interested in that for the purpose of our discussion here today. I just want to talk about art. And society. And the verbal flatulence of the Illuminati that seems prevalent in this man’s death.

Back in my newspaper reporter days I had the opportunity to cover hundreds of arts-related stories. I’ve even been known to make certain classical piano competition organizers do a double-take when I (standing there in J. B. Dillon cowboy boots, pressed jeans, and a black leather vest) made observations like, “…I particularly liked his interpretation of Rachmaninoff’s second concerto and was was immediately drawn by the way he enhanced the opening chords with the subtle accelerando, then proceeded with the remainder of the movement at a more decelerated pace…”

I fact, as I write this I am listening to Christopher Parkening playing Recuerdos de la Alhambra. A beautiful piece for classical guitar written by Spanish composer Francisco Tarrega in 1896. And the next song on the playlist? Big Bad Voodoo Daddy’s Boogie Bumper.

I, like many of you, have have varied tastes. I like a lot of different things. And while I can talk intelligently about various aspects of classical music, modern art, and literary fiction, they are not my favorites. My tastes are not that refined. I like funk music. Western Swing. Big Band. Swing. Bluegrass. Oldies rock. And my taste in art runs more to cartoon art, Thomas Kinkade, Norman Rockwell, Gahan Wilson, and astronaut Alan Bean. I like James Patterson, Charles L. Grant, Dean Koontz, Jonathan Kellerman, Mickey Spillane, John D. MacDonald, John Sandford, Jefferson Bass, and Lester Dent.

So, back to the reporter days, on one particular afternoon I had the job of covering the new exhibit by a world renowned artist opening in town. I will not name the artist not the venue. I will say it was not a local artist (so they will know I’m not talking about them). when I returned from the opening the city editor asked how it went.

“Phillip, I could have done what he did. And I have no artistic talent beyond being able to draw a straight line with a sharp pencil and a ruler.”

But the art world hailed him as a genius. I didn’t get it then, and I don’t get it now. What I DID get, however, was his willingness to talk with anyone (through an interpreter) about his art. His willingness to explain it. To make it accessible. I still see his work on occasion and I still don’t like it.

But I respect him as an artist and I respect him for his willingness to try to make his vision understandable instead of wrapping himself in a cloak of superiority and “allowing” us Philistines to walk through his world.

So when I see a quote like the one in The Washington Post, I can’t help but ask what’s wrong with wanting to use your talent to make something accessible to the rest of us. Those of us who prefer Diet Pepsi over Iskilde bottled water from Denmark or would rather have a hot dog than Polenta with Provencal Vegetable Ragout. Oh sure, they’re nice on occasion, but such things are not our daily fare.

What’s wrong with wanting to create something that “the widest possible audience” can enjoy? James Patterson doesn’t seem to have a problem with it…and more than 100 million people have read at least one James Patterson book. And a fellow by the name of Stephen King has more than 300,000,000 books in print. Now I don’t know about artists, but as an author, I know a couple of hundred people who wouldn’t mind being able to make similar claims. 

Don’t the masses deserve to enjoy things too? Or does art have to be obscure and unattainable in order to have true intrinsic value/

I don’t think so.

Maybe we don’t all listen to Back, Rachmaninoff, Villa-Lobos, Liszt, or Benjamin Britten. Some people like The Doobie Brothers, Yanni, The Red Hot Chili Peppers, Big Bad Voodoo Daddy, Toby Mac, The Beatles, or Justin “Isn’t Your Fifteen Minutes Just About Up” Bieber. But the fact is, we like what we like. And we support the things we like. The things in which we find value. And if through our collective dollars we make somebody rich…so be it. 

Art, regardless of the form it takes, is meant to be appreciated. Even by the widest possible audience.

So for those of you who feel it is a travesty for an artist to create works with mass appeal, please feel free to pout and sit there gazing at your navel while casting your poisonous platitudes, plaintively purveying puerile pablum.

The rest of us are off to make somebody else rich as a reward for taking us into consideration.


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