Nearly every American has seen the work of Thomas Kinkade. The famed “painter of light” became a worldwide celebrity. His work may not hang in many museums, but it became a populist item to collect for millions of Americans. At its peak, his company estimated one in twenty Americans owned a piece of his art. Yet as his empire grew and grew, the pressures became greater. Documentarian Miranda Yousef discusses the painter through many lights of her own: a father, a businessman, an alcoholic, and a misunderstood artist.

After the death of Thomas Kinkade in 2012, his family began to explore the vault in his office. Inside was a trove of experimental works far outside the style he popularized in the public consciousness. However, they also reckon that his work ethic and yearning for greatness pushed him to abuse alcohol.

He wanted to win financially as an artist and become a respected artist in his own right. The negative feedback from the community and from other artists ate away at one of those dreams. Eventually, financial instability made the pressures of his life snowball into worse mistakes.

Following an artist like Kinkade makes for some intriguing moments. Having recorded himself from his teen years, the man seemed certain that greatness was within reach. Even learning about his unconventional background, including working for Ralph Bakshi, helps explain his later behavior. He was a man driven to better the lives of his family, and that care emanates from the footage we watch.

Yousef ensures that Art for Everybody does not simply parrot the discourse from the Kinkade family. Instead, she reaches out to some of his harshest critics to voice their opinions. Like Listening to Kenny G last year, Art for Everybody discovers many frustrated historians who cannot fully reckon with Kinkade’s success. On some level, there is an anti-poptivist lean to many of the criticisms leveled against Kinkade’s artwork.

Unfortunately, the criticisms of the pieces make logical sense when the case against Kinkade is laid out. Including the feedback, even hostile and hurtful criticisms, proves that Yousef did not simply paint Kinkade with a positive spin. Instead, she pushes the criticisms of her subject into the center of the story to engage with them.

While biographical docs have an inherent ceiling, Yousef does her best to overcome those issues. With an eclectic group of commentators and those who knew him best, Art is For Everybody provides a thorough portrait of Thomas Kinkade’s life and struggles.

Alan’s Rating: 7/10

What do you think of Art for Everybody? Please let us know in the comments below! Catch Art for Everybody at SXSW 2023.

Leave a Reply