I was shocked when I logged onto the computer on Saturday and saw the headline – Thomas Kinkade dead at 54.  What??  I posted a link to an article on the Art Licensing Info Facebook page and a discussion ensued.  With his huge success in art and art licensing, I thought it only fitting to tip our hats to a man who created a very successful brand in art licensing.

Thomas Kinkade died of natural causes (as yet, that is all that is being said) in his California home.  “The Painter of Light” – whether you were a fan of his art and style or not, has one of the most recognizable brands in America.  An article in the New York Times describes Kinkade and his work:

Though often disdained by the fine art establishment, Mr. Kinkade built a decorative art empire by creating sentimental paintings that were, for the most part, relatively inexpensive and resonated with the desires of homeowners who did not ordinarily buy art. He sold his work directly, through his own franchise galleries or on cable television home shopping networks, and eventually online.

Much of his work reflected Christian themes or visions of a traditional, rustic America residing in comforting solitude. The paintings — of homey cottages and rural churches and rivers flowing gently through brilliant foliage — rarely included people, which allowed the owners to project themselves into the scenes.

This, and other descriptions saying he did “art for the common man” really show the rift within the art community that artists in licensing face on a regular basis.  It’s like there is a “team fine art” who look down their noses at artists who create art for commercial purposes – as if it isn’t really art at all if you can figure out that a snowman is a snowman without a lot of deep reflection.

There are so many measures of success – it’s up to you to create your own definition and not worry about how others look at it.

From where I sit, Thomas Kinkade was a very successful artist.  He had his challenges, certainly, both in his business and personal life.  But he set out on a mission to build a business based on his Christian values, create art that would connect with the masses, and earn a very, very nice living at the same time.

He thought outside the box and adapted his brand and offerings over time.  Beginning with training in art from UC Berkeley he then painted backgrounds in an animated movie.  He later sold prints of his work so the price points made the art accessible to a wider audience.  In the ’90s he opened his own galleries and in the late 90’s he began licensing his art so it could appear on more products.  He even created gated housing communities in California with houses that looked like those in his paintings… now that is some out-of-the-box thinking!

Some lessons to be learned from Thomas Kinkade in both his life and death include writing your own definition of success, finding your market and being true to the consumers that resonate with your art, build your brand and above all – take action because you never know how long or short your life might be.

Here’s to your creative success!

– Tara Reed