I keep reading Thomas Kinkade obituaries about how the art world establishment rejected the artist and they're mostly right. In my experience, curiosity for Kinkade's Media Arts Group art and various spin-off products probably reached an apex for artists circa 2004-2005, but I’ve never heard anyone say anything positive about the work. If he influenced artists work, it was as a dark cultural phenomenon, never a model to be replicated.
That’s all pretty obvious, but it’s worth breaking down where this distrust came from. As early as 2001, San Francisco Chronicle art critic Kenneth Baker attempted to do so for 60 Minute’s Morley Safer, describing Kinkade's vocabulary as one of “formulas”. He’s right, of course—somehow every home in Kinkade’s work, whatever its treatment, ends up looking like tract housing—but the look of the paintings isn’t the real issue. After all, most contemporary art is allowed to look like total garbage, so long as the concept is solid.
The issue is Kinkade’s ideology, and particularly his nostalgia; his paintings endlessly trumpet a nonexistent past when times were simpler and morality more pure. There's nothing wrong with this, but it stands at odds with a contemporary art world that looks to the future for inspiration. We value complexity and innovation, and distrust saccharine pictures of the past.
This comes through in the thoughts of Joan Didion, herself no fan of the artist. “A Kinkade painting was typically rendered in slightly surreal pastels. It typically featured a cottage or a house of such insistent coziness as to seem actually sinister, suggestive of a trap designed to attract Hansel and Gretel. Every window was lit to lurid effect, as if the interior of the structure might be on fire.”
Didion's take overstates the influence of photography—every house with the lights on looks a little bit like it's on fire when viewed through the lens of a camera—but that the images disturb her says much about Kinkade’s brand of nostalgia. Intellectuals simply do not trust, or value, a worry-free world.