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THE ARTS

Artist Thomas Kinkade's Words of Light

By Craig von Buseck
CBN.com Contributing Writer

CBN.com - Note: Thomas Kinkade got his start as an artist painting backgrounds for movie sets and went on to be one of the most successful commercial artists in American history. With his unexpected death, we look back on our conversation with him at the height of his popularity.

Craig von Buseck: What made you decide to write these two new books, The Many Loves of Marriage, and Cape Light?

Thomas Kinkade: I love audio books, and when I paint I'm always listening to a book. I find that my imagination really takes flight in the painting process when I'm listening to audio books. Literature is the stringing together of pictures in words. Norman Rockwell, in his heyday, hired an individual who sat and read him books. This was before the advent of audio books. But artists typically have always loved story telling, and I certainly love it.

Craig von Buseck: Tell us about the story of your novel, Cape Light.

Thomas Kinkade: This is really the story of a community, but more than that it is the story of community living. It's the story of people's lives who intertwine and then unwind. The real story is the story of an ideal world -- harmony that can be achieved when a community becomes a source of support and a place of peace for an individual. There's a minister who is the center of the village. There is a Christian theme to it, but it's not exclusively faith-driven.

My paintings are similar. Though I personally have a strong Christian faith, I don't paint biblical scenes -- or I haven't up to this time. At some point I may. I view my paintings as messengers of light that can go into the home that are attractive and inclusive.

A painting has a lot of advantages over other forms of communication. Unlike a movie, you don't have to put it into a machine and turn it on. It's just there every day. It's not limited by the element of time. It's a constant part of the home. In a world that shouts at us, with moving pictures that shout, and constantly grab for our attention, this is a still, quiet messenger.

It's like in a room full of shouting people, someone whispers and you want to turn around and hear what to hear what that person says. These paintings are quiet. I like to think the stories in this book are not overwhelming, action-packed drama. These are quiet stories of real people.

Craig von Buseck: There are many people who love your paintings. How do the paintings relate to the story of the novel? What's the connection?

Thomas Kinkade: The novel is a freestanding, creative entity by design. Wouldn't it be disappointing for people who have already projected themselves into a painting and told their own stories to hear specific stories? And so I think what we try to say is, this is just another creative extension of who Thomas Kinkade is. It's not just like a strung-together illustration of my paintings. We really took a broader approach, which is to say, I'm a painter of core values -- faith, family, home, community, the beauty of nature, and a simpler way of living.

I talk about those everywhere I go. I talk about family and home. Interestingly, I grew up in a less-than-ideal home. An interviewer from the Wall Street Journal recently asked me, "Isn't your whole creative approach compensation? What you didn't have growing up, you spent your whole life trying to achieve?" I think it's a great psychological model. Walt Disney might be another example. I wouldn't deny that in the deep part of motivation don't we all aspire to create for ourselves what we might find comfortable, and comforting, and beautiful, and enriching.

I grew up in a broken home. My Dad was out of the home when I was five-years-old. I never knew him very well. If I were to define success as a seven, eight, or nine-year-old, it would be that I'm going to have kids and be with my kids. I don't want to be a dad who leaves and is gone, and says, "Goodbye family, I'm going to go chase women." I couldn't do that. Plus, I happened to have married my dream girl, so that helps.

Thomas & Nanette KinkadeThis year I'm celebrating my twentieth anniversary, and thirty years of our love. We met when I was thirteen and she was twelve. We believe that we've made certain foundational choices that have put us at odds with our mainstream culture. We don't surf the Net -- if I need something of the Internet my assistants will get it for me. I don't want to embrace a vicarious experience like that, that would take me away from my family. We don't have television in the home. We're a family of readers, because reading is a group activity. Often I read to my kids. I intend to read this book to them, because these are wholesome stories. When we got married it was that ideology, or paradigm that we were operating under where we just simply had those mutual values, and wanted to live them out in our daily life.

I was a painter for backgrounds of films at that time, so my values weren't extended into my paintings per se. I was painting castles, and enchanted forests, and all kinds of weird stuff for fantasy movies. I was painting fantasies, but they were someone else's fantasies. As God really entered into my life, I began to see that art could be a very compelling ministry.

Painting has the advantage of not only being a silent messenger in the home, but of being an imprinting value carrier. In other words, a book you read, you remember some of the stories, maybe. Your hope is that some core of the message might linger. But how long does it linger? Until you read another book, and you forget about the book you read last year, or ten years ago. The story does imprint to some degree, but a painting is a visual imprint. I believe there are two gateways to the human heart; the eyes and the ears. What we smell and taste don't really change our lives. But the eyes and the ears really imprint the heart, and of the two the eye is really strong. That's why Jesus continually spoke in visual pictures. He didn't just tell theoretical doctrine to his followers, but painted pictures about farmers and harvest and so-forth -- pictures in words. The goal is to paint a picture of a better life, and that's really the goal of the book.

When I start a painting I'm aware that there's a vast audience out there that will someday see this painting, and will find meaning and comfort from it. The letters we get are astounding, to say the least -- people whose lives have been changed in some dramatic way; who have gotten hope in difficult times; those who suffer from the loss of a loved one, and the painting gave them hope.

I got a letter from someone who told the story of a woman who, on 9/11 was driving home in Philadelphia. As she's coming home she's hearing on the radio about this terror attack, and she's thinking, "Oh no, my husband and my oldest son were going to the Trade Tower today for a business meeting." She got home and started praying, but they never came home. In one fell swoop she lost her husband and her oldest son. She was in absolute shock and grief. Three days later she walked in to one of our galleries and began telling this story to a staff person. The staff, as a group, got together and purchased this painting that she had seen. She was standing in front of one of the paintings with tears saying, "That's kind of a glimpse of heaven. That's where my loved ones are." The staff saw her a month later and she said, "That painting is the only thing that's getting me through. I can step into that painting and feel like I'm with my husband and with my son."

We have people who share stories like this by the hundred. Another woman came to me at an event and told me that she had adopted eight children, but these were all handicapped children. They were not only handicapped; these were mentally handicapped children. She had two autistic children, three children with Down's Syndrome, and one that was a brain stem baby -- a child that doesn't really have any brain function, they're just sort of alive, but they can't think properly. This woman was like an angel on earth. She collects my work, and she said, "My little six-year-old boy, who is autistic, has never spoken a word." He was sitting on her lap and watching her work on the computer and one of my screen savers came up, which happened to have a scene of a boat. Out of the blue this little six-year-old turned to his mother and said, "boat." It was the first word he had ever spoken. This woman said, "Can you imagine the power that is resident in that work of art, not because of you, but God used it in this child."

In Scripture, in the book of Acts, we're told that the Apostle Paul prayed for little bits of cloth. They brought cloths to him that he might pray a blessing for people in the district, and they were carried throughout the district. People were healed and miraculous events happened in their lives. Well, it wasn't the bit of cloth that had anything to do with it. It wasn't the Apostle Paul that had anything to do with it. He wasn't a miracle worker. It was the prayer of faith, and this was a contact point for faith. So we believe that these books and these paintings are just like a little bit of cloth. We send these out as messengers like the apostle did, that might, in some way, touch a life that we will never hear the stories of what happens as a result of it.

Order your copy of The Many Loves of Marriage

Order your copy of Cape Light

More from Craig von Buseck on CBN.com


Craig von BuseckCraig von Buseck is Ministries Director for CBN.com. Send him an e-mail with your comments.

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