Popular or prestigious – which do you want your art to be?
I raise the question because my last post mentioned the vitriol that surrounds Damian Hirst’s work whilst being praised by the Art Establishment. Today I learned of the death of Thomas Kinkade whose work was vilified by the critics whilst being America’s “most collected living artist”. His paintings and merchandise were said to fetch about $100 million a year in sales, and to be in 10 million homes in the United States.
Kinkade’s work was unashamedly sentimental and was the antithesis of Hirst’s. He concentrated on bucolic landscapes, the beauty of nature, quiet, tranquillity, peace, joy and hope. His work was reviled by the critics, once being described as: “To call the style chocolate-boxy would be a serious slight to the world of confectionery illustration.”
So we have two artists: both have been praised and reviled, both show distinctive work, both are successful in financial terms. The similarities go further: both had a strong awareness of their art as a business and both catered to what their audience wanted to see. But between them they could not provide a better example of the gulf that exists between public taste and Art as perceived by the critics.
So an artist looking for success needs to first define what success means to them – only then can they start to plan their route. Hirst and Kinkade have both been successful but demonstrate very different faces of a successful career. They also demonstrate that an artist needs to develop a recognizable style, be aware of the business side of their art and they remind us that no artist will ever please everyone.
Certainly art is unlikely to be both prestigious and popular. Which would you choose?