March 13th, 2023
MOVIE: ART FOR EVERYBODY
STARRING: THOMAS KINKADE
DIRECTED BY: MIRANDA YOUSEF
AMovieGuy.com’s RATING: 3 ½ STARS (Out of 4)
The question, “what is art” continues to be elusive to have a concrete answer. Can it even be answered? There is a definition in Webster’s Dictionary, sure, but even that can’t truly be the final meaning. It is in the eye of the beholder or an elastic concept that stretches beyond language. Director Miranda Yousef proposes that question in Art for Everybody, her fantastic new documentary about the artist Thomas Kinkade– known as “the painter of light”– delivering one of the best documentaries of 2023. The paintings of Kinkade became synonymous with shopping malls, QVC, and imagery of cottages that you would see on collector plates. What Art for Everybody does is highlight the life of a man, discovering that there was more behind his persona, and that within all of us is a struggling artist.
What makes Art for Everybody work is how Yousef layers it so well. It blends the talking heads, audio, and video footage of Kinkade to capture his full elements. There are also interviews and conversations with the Kinkade family– wife Nanette Willey, daughters Merritt, Chandler, Winsor, and Everett– all of them being as open as possible about their father. It’s undoubtedly commendable, both for Yousef and the Kinkade family, who dig into their own personal struggles with who their father was, the kind of husband he became, and what his art enterprise did to their family. Art for Everybody had to be therapeutic for everyone.
Often, the major debates with documentary filmmaking is about what is directing vs. journalism and how does a director stay neutral in their observations of a subject. Yousef does an excellent balancing act. That teeter arrives in having the Kinkade daughters explain the incredibly kind, gentle man that gave them security but also disappointed them. The other side is plenty of conversations with art critics such as The New Yorker writer Susan Orlean, who all saw Kinkade’s work as fluff. That didn’t stop the money from rolling in. The fandom for the work of Kinkade was obsessive. Lines around the block, letters, prayers, and constant praise.
The major details about Kinkade’s life up to that moment are incredibly fascinating too. He clearly had a childhood that was troubled by an absent father and a mother that drank. He wanted to be a respected artist and could do it all– but he found his avenue. By many standards, in his time and today, he’s been viewed as a sell-out or a hack to the art community. The debate of being a commercial artist vs. the starving artist has always been at the forefront. The art critics of Kinkade’s work pissed him off, and that anger revealed the underside of a man who desperately wanted to be loved. Instead of trying to change his style, he fought with the art criticism community, diving deeper into his style of paintings. With that chip on his shoulder he would turn to drinking and a darker persona emerged. Drinking on sets of his cable access shows, unable to function, and an arrest for a DUI followed. His painting empire was crumbling.
There is ultimately a great lesson in Art for Everybody, which is to always be true to yourself. Later in the documentary we see paintings that the Kinkade daughters find that reveal a man who was capable of more than just lighthouses and rolling meadows. There was a genuine talent who could do it all. The reality is that he found a way to turn this style of painted imagery into a financial empire but selling yourself can be worse than being true to one’s own passion. Either way, Thomas Kinkade is most certainly an artist. His kind of art just isn’t for everybody.
ART FOR EVERYBODY IS NOW PLAYING AT THE SXSW FILM FESTIVAL MARCH 15TH & 16TH, 2023. RELEASE INFORMATION IS TBD.
3 ½ STARS
Written by: Leo Brady