Paul Brent – the Art Licensing Info resident branding expert of sorts, brought up some great points about the “Thomas Kinkade Brand” in the post I did last week about his passing.  I think they are important to highlight as we should all be considering these issues when building our own business and brand as well and not set ourselves up for issues down the road.  Here is what Paul has to say…

As we think about Thomas Kinkade and his recent passing it gives all of artists who license our work a moment to think about his career and what we have learned and can learn from it.  One is that we are all mortal yet our legacy can live on after us. Thomas Kinkade had become, in addition to the “Painter of Light” and the “Most collected artist in the world”, the highest grossing artist in art licensing. He also managed to straddle that line between decorative art and fine art.  Where most artists fall either into one or the other, Kinkade put his recognizable images of cottages and backlit landscapes on just about every imaginable product and was a major hit in  “collectables” when others brands and collectables as a category tanked in the 1990’s.  Other categories he excelled in were decorative home accessories, gift and stationery. His licensing made it to the level of housing design and set new standards for multiple categories. And while his art was panned unanimously by art critics who called it everything from kitsch to lurid his loyal fans remained true in their love for his work. Though he was also criticized for his numerous limited editions that were not so limited, some up to 250,000 prints in one edition, his work remained an affordable piece of art for many who admired his work.  Originals on his website are selling for $17,000 to $75,000, still quite modest compared to other well known fine artists.  His art as well as his reputation will be with us for a long time and the potential for other artists to assume his mantle in art licensing has yet to play out.

The story of his stellar rise is always accompanied by references to investors and marketers who created the entity Media Arts Group , Inc. headed by chairman Kenneth Raasch.  As licensing artists we can all use the help of experts in marketing but the excesses of Media Arts’ claims and even Kinkade’s involvement in the marketing scheme ,where he eagerly carried out the painting assignments and self aggrandizement, went way over the standards set by other artists in the past.   Raasch quite cynically commented in annual reports how the company targeted conservative Christians by Kinkade embedding Christian symbols in his work and naming paintings after Bible verses.  It has also been pointed out by critics that this demographic is not generally educated in art collection and was ripe pickings for high pressure sales techniques.  Media Arts traded on the NY Stock exchange for several years until its final bankruptcy and Kinkade’s eventual buy back of the company. Kinkade’s company was investigated by the FBI, sued for millions of dollars by franchise gallery owners with one settlement totaling $2.8 million.

Many of the artists in licensing can live their brand in relatively anonymity yet with the celebrity Thomas Kinkade sought and attained his life attracted the scrutiny of the press and the public began to see the inconsistencies between his art and his life in his later years. While Thomas Kinkade will always be remembered for his ability to build a brand in art he is another example of a celebrity who set his standards for himself and his brand too high for his own ability. His attachment of his art to Christian ideals did not, in the end, allow his personal life the latitude for error. Much like Tiger Woods, Kinkade could ultimately not live up to the ideals he portrayed to the public.

For artists, society actually gives you quite a bit of leeway for personal behavior. Non-standard, even aberrant, behavior is tolerated and even expected from artists, think Andy Warhol, Salvador Dali and Picasso. Kinkade set himself up to fail both as an artist by proclaiming himself “Greatest, Best, Most Collected”, and as a human, “Christian, Family Man”. But, as they say, America like a rags to riches story, but loves a riches to rags story better and redemption to riches again even better. Kinkade should have only lived long enough to redeem himself. I do believe he was a talented artist but a bit of humility could have helped his reputation and his personal life. As my son Anders, the Greek scholar, would say, the Greeks have explained all of this and you only need to read the Classics to guide your life. Will Thomas Kinkade and his art be vindicated as was Norman Rockwell or will his art be like the Beanie Baby craze, to be remembered as a brief lived consumer phenomenon on sale at bargain prices on e-bay? Only the future holds the answer to that question.

As a closing comment, as a licensing artist we each must decide for ourselves where to draw the line with marketing claims and attention grabbing events.  We need to remember that in pushing the limits this can either gain us recognition or spell doom to our financial welfare and legacy.  Thomas Kinkade pushed the limits and now the rest is history.

If you want to learn more about how to Brand Yourself for Success in Art Licensing, be sure to check out Paul’s teleseminar replay.

It is full of usable information to help you evaluate, plan and manage your art brand. We so want you to consider this information for your business that we are offering it for a discounted price of $47 thru May 1st – simply use code BRAND when you checkout to get your discount.

Here’s to your creative – and well branded – success!

– Tara Reed