Which Wise Man’s Castle is Built Stronger against The Art World?


When it comes to evaluating the quality and strength of a piece of artwork there is no better place to take it than the art world; a powerful organization filled with experts, gallery owners, buyers, curators, artists, and other individuals, who are not afraid to make their opinions known. This art world can make or break an artist; the art world holds enough power to dictate which artists go down in art history, as well as enough power to control an undisputed hierarchy of the world’s greatest and most influential artists.

Two artists familiar with the art world are El Greco and Thomas Kinkade. El Greco is a 16th century artist who is regarded by the art world as the precursor to the expressionist and cubist movement. Thomas Kinkade on the other hand is a 21st century artist, considered to be the most successful artist ever, selling millions of his paintings worldwide. However, unlike El Greco, Thomas Kinkade has never been accepted by the art world, even after his early death at the age of 54. To understand why the art world chose to accept El Greco and not Thomas Kinkade, the artist’s history, quality of work, critiques and technical style will be discussed in Lippard’s three-pronged analysis on El Greco’s View of Toledo and Thomas Kinkade’s Guardian Castle.
El Greco, The Greek, is a 16th century artist from Crete, who spent most of his art years as a part of the Spanish Renaissance.

Born in 1541, El Greco is known for his dramatic and expressionist style influenced by the counter-reformation of the Catholic Church. El Greco’s work confused the public at first as his portraits and religious paintings reflected the mannerist movement defined by compressed space, bizarre colors, and elongated, contorted figures. It was not until the 20th century that El Greco’s work became widely accepted. El Greco’s View of Toledo, as seen on the right, is one of the first landscape paintings ever painted in Spanish Art history. El Greco, at this time, only has two surviving landscape paintings, including View of Toledo, the most recognized out of the two. Using Lippard’s three-pronged analysis to examine the quality of the work requires the piece of work to first be examined on its form and material properties. View of Toledo is a 47 ¾ x 42 ¾ in oil on canvas painting of the city of Toledo using dark shades of green and blue.

The title reflects exactly what the painting shows, El Greco’s view of the city of Toledo, where he worked and spent most of his life. Using the next two steps regarding content and context, the title can be examined because the image does not accurately show everything in Toledo. The image is an eastern view of Toledo from the north showing El Castillo de San Servando, Castle of San Servando. The main difference from the actual view of Toledo from the painting View of Toledo, is the fact that El Greco moved the Cathedral.

If we were actually looking at Toledo, you would not be able to see the Cathedral. To understand why El Greco moved the Cathedral, the context in which the painting was painted must be examined. El Greco painted many religious paintings as he was born 24 years after Luther first revolted against the Catholic Church. El Greco’s paintings show the influence of the Catholic Church’s counter-reformation as many paintings depict religious sacraments: the Virgin, and the Saints. El Greco’s work underscored the importance of Catholicism as he painted expressive religious paintings to reinforce traditional and the newly confirmed catholic beliefs.

Like El Greco, Thomas Kinkade was a religious man, a conservative Christian who believed his paintings were messages from God. Born in 1952, Thomas Kinkade, a Placerville, California native, is known for his mass marketing, mass printing of his paintings, and his mass production of Kinkade products under The Thomas Kinkade Company™. With millions of copies of Thomas Kinkade paintings sold, the value of Kinkade as an artist in the art world is nonexistent. Opinions range from “a little more than successful kitsch [to] mall art, [and] merely kitsch without substance”. Kinkade’s paintings are considered bucolic – of or relating to the pleasant aspects of the countryside and country life. It is this aspect that creates controversy among admirers and critics. One of Thomas Kinkade’s paintings is Guardian Castle, as shown above. Using Lippard’s three-pronged approach again, the material and form of the Guardian Castle will be examined first. Kinkade’s Guardian Castle is a 24 x 30 inch canvas painting and print. Thomas Kinkade use of saturated pastel colors and highlights be seen throughout the painting in order to obtain “serene simplicity”.

The content of Thomas Kinkade’s painting is an idealistic scene that belongs in a fantasy land. In terms of context, Kinkade started out as a freelance artist who focused on the natural light in nature. Eventually this led to his commercialization process as exemplified with his mass selling on QVC home network. This is where the issue comes in with Kinkade paintings since “his work is all about content not style” and because of this he has not made “a single contribution to how paintings can be painted or to what art can look like or do –”. Kinkade’s struggle against the art world is understandable when analyzing his work. Kinkade was a talented painter whose paintings reflected the message of family, home values, and faith. These messages allowed Kinkade to tap into the idealistic world many Americans live in, which aided in his popularity shown through the selling of millions of copies of his paintings and products.

So if Kinkade is the most sold artist ever, than why does the art world not accept him? Recently one critic explained why Kinkade battled with the art world:

“The reason the art world doesn't love Kinkade isn't that it hates love, life, goodness, or God. We may be silly or soulless or whatever, but we don't automatically hate things with faith and love or that other people love. We're not sociopaths. (Well, most of us aren't.) The reason the art world doesn't respond to Kinkade is because none — not one — of his ideas about subject-matter, surface, color, composition, touch, scale, form, or skill is remotely original."
This explanation and opinion of Kinkade from the art world is much different than those of El Greco. In a New York Art Review, one critic analyzed El Greco’s work with his own opinions and the opinions of others. One critic he mentioned was an eighteenth – century critic  who said “We can define El Greco’s art by saying that what he did well none did better, and that what he did badly none did worse” referring to the delirium in El Greco’s portraits. However, Mark Stevens, the author of this New York Art Review talks about how he was “once dismissed, [and is] now revered” concluding that “The truth is that El Greco asks more of you than analysis or appreciation. He wants your soul. You should twist a little in your skin, as his figures do.”

Whether or not your skin twists a little to El Greco’s paintings or if you find solace in the simplicity in Kinkade’s idealistic paintings / prints, the quality of each artist’s work shown in the artist’s artistic vocabulary gives strength to the art world’s opinion. Thomas Kinkade’s vocabulary is “a vocabulary of formulas, unfortunately” while El Greco’s artistic vocabulary includes elements of delirium, elongated figures, religious aspect, and color. These artists have both have fans and critics both inside and outside the art world. Whatever side you are on, it is important to understand how the aesthetics and Lippard’s three-pronged analysis establishes the art works quality, and gives value to the artist. The three-pronged analysis of El Greco’s View of Toledo is far stronger than Thomas Kinkade’s as he has contributed to art history, and will remain prominent in history for centuries to come.


By: Lindsey Richmond
Major: Animal Science & Spanish
Expected Graduation Date: May 2016 - then Veterinary School
Hometown: Mukilteo, WA                  
I have always loved and appreciated art. Growing up, I was always involved in something artsy whether it was drawing, coloring, painting or crafting something. I once thought I would major in art, but science took over and became a stronger passion. I still love to draw - pencil and charcoal mostly. My family is also really artistic, and they always encouraged me to draw and create. One of my favorite art related memories was when I was in preschool. My preschool had different stations we could take part in like art, building with legos, watching movies, stuff like that. I remember I got in trouble from my teacher because I spent too much time in the art center. Like most 5 year-olds, I cried because I was banned from the art center for the rest of the week...apparently the other kids wanted a turn. I ended up being the only student who had a weekly time quota for the art center.



“Thomas Kinkade – loved by many, loathed by art critics” The Los Angeles Times. April 9, 2012. http://latimesblogs.latimes.com/culturemonster/2012/04/why-was-thomas-kinkade-loathed-by-art-critics.html

Tour: El Greco (Spanish 1541-1614) The National Gallery of Art. http://www.nga.gov/collection/gallery/gg29 /gg29-over1.html#jump

View of Toledo. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. http://www.metmuseum.org/Collections/search-the-collections/110001017

Schumacher, Mary Louise. “Thomas Kinkade, inspiring hate among critics” The Journal Sentinel. April 10, 2012. http://www.jsonline.com/blogs/entertainment/146844185.html

Gopnik, Blake. “Thomas Kinkade – loved by many, loathed by art critics” The Daily Beast. April 9, 2012. http://www.thedailybeast.com/articles/2012/04/11/thomas-kinkade-s-paintings-embody-an-american-vision-missed-by-many-artists.html

Merriam-Webster’s Dictionary

Schumacher, Mary Louise. “Thomas Kinkade, inspiring hate among critics” The Journal Sentinel. April 10, 2012. http://www.jsonline.com/blogs/entertainment/146844185.html

Schumacher, Mary Louise. “Thomas Kinkade, inspiring hate among critics” The Journal Sentinel. April 10, 2012. http://www.jsonline.com/blogs/entertainment/146844185.html

Stevens, Mark. “Greek Revival” New York Art Review. http://nymag.com/nymetro/arts/art/reviews/n_9298/

Gopnik, Blake. “Thomas Kinkade – loved by many, loather by art critics” The Daily Beast. April 9, 2012. http://www.thedailybeast.com/articles/2012/04/11/thomas-kinkade-s-paintings-embody-an-american-vision-missed-by-many-artists.html