The Associated Press reported that painter Thomas Kinkade died last Friday. As a painter, his success seems an unlikely topic for a photographer's blog. But it was the business model of the self-described painter of light that sheds its own light on the broader topic of art, accessibility to audience, and marketing.
Kindade was an anomaly in the art world, having developed a network of franchised galleries - many of them in malls - that sold duplicates of his original work. He created a commercial empire with his art, and sold to countless individuals who regarded themselves as collectors. Indeed, when news of his death spread, there was a run on his galleries, some of them selling out over the weekend. He turned images that started as one-of-a-kind paintings into mass produced copies for public consumption. And his fans loved it.
At a time when gallery owners have tried to turn photographs into limited edition pieces to enhance their value and collectability, Kinkade was a painter who turned his work into reproductions, understanding the value of universal availablility for the branding and marketing of his products.
Some have favorably compared Kinkade to Norman Rockwell. Others have criticized him for not selling originals. Kinkade responded, saying in a 2004 catalog to his California show, "I can only state that I have always had the attitude that art in whatever format it is accessible to people is good....All forms of art reporduction have meaning to some body of people."
As it pertains more particularly to photographs, a posting on the web by Guy Tal about limited versus open editions in photography appeared this weekend. The article, and the ensuing comments, provide a provocative discussion about this topic. Reflecting upon Kinkade's business model adds another wrinkle to the general issue.