Entry 118: What Your Walls Say About You

Thomas Kinkade, who was to art what James Patterson is to literature, died last week, thus invalidating his claim of being America’s most collected living artist.

According to the Huffington Post, his prints are in the homes of an estimated 10 million Americans.  (I assume this means art reproductions and not his fingerprints, which would be creepy.)   Many more homes are graced with his other, more avant garde endeavors, such as Thomas Kincade Pre-lit Pull-up Christmas trees and Thomas Kincade folding tray tables, both of which are real things.

Anyway, it got me to thinking about art as home decor. As the 100 or so Beanies Babies* in our attic and the 50 pairs of salt and pepper shakers in our basement will attest, my family has the collector gene in its DNA. This is likely left over from evolution’s hunting and gathering stage, when our ancestors evidently went around saying, “Oh, look, here’s a nice rock. Let’s gather it,” while other people were out hunting and, you know, eating. Our survival probably depended on the ability to talk folks into giving us some meat in exchange for drawing pictures on their cave walls.

Our art collecting has gone through various phases. When I was single, I collected reproductions of antique maps, which would have come in handy if I had ever I wanted to plan a trip to Wallachia.**   When my wife Barbara and I got our first place, we collected prints by an artist named John Baeder, who made a career of traveling around the country doing photo-realistic paintings of diners. Then we got into animation cels, and pretty much every inch of wall space in our old condo was covered with the images of Bugs, Mickey, Betty, Felix and their colleagues.

The cels and the diners are now in the basement along with the salt and pepper shakers. I really don’t remember what happened to the maps.

Counter-intuitively, when eBay came along, it kind of killed our passion for collecting.  For awhile, in the beginning, I’d be getting something delivered just about every day.  But it became too easy. Once you could pretty much find anything online, all the fun was taken out of looking for it. So the walls in our new house display an eclectic mix of photographs by Lisa Kristine and Deborah Loeb Bohren and art our daughter Casey commissioned from her friends at the Rhode Island School of Design.

All of which is to raise a question: when people exhibit art in their homes, do they think about what that art says about them?   Art can be very talkative, you know, and it can say things like:

  • “This is what we like, and we don’t care if you think we’re charlatans.”
  • “We have no idea what this is a picture of, it could be a blotch of Welch’s grape jelly for all we know, but hopefully you will think we are connoisseurs of modern art.”
  • “This genuine Picasso sketch means that we are very wealthy or that we got very lucky at a garage sale.”
  • “We believe you can’t really have too many Jesuses.”
  • “Canvas is okay for paintings, but velvet makes them look so much richer.”
  • “Isn’t our kindergartener talented?”
  • “This art sucks but it goes with the carpet.”

My mother in Ft. Lauderdale is clearly in the “art as decorating accent” school. She owns two types of artwork: pieces created by her granddaughter and pieces she purchased at the local indoor flea market primarily because the colors go with her living room. She also has this weird table sculpture of a hand holding the earpiece of an old candlestick phone up to a disembodied face (no head either; just the face). I stare at this thing the whole time I’m there, because I’m convinced that the hand is backward, and I keep trying to position my hand the same way to see if it’s possible to hold the phone like that without dislocating my wrist.

My personal art philosophy is this: I like to have pictures in my living room that I can enjoy looking at while there is a commercial on TV. And since our TV viewing habits increasingly involve a DVR, what’s on our walls is getting less and less important, because I spend my time during the commercials fast-forwarding through the commercials.

But here’s the most important question of all: now that he’s dead, will our set of Thomas Kincade coasters increase in value?***

See you soon.

*Our Beanie Baby collection was once valued at over $10,000, and includes many of the original issues. They have their tags and have been stored in little clear plastic coffins. Please buy them from us.

**Of course, if I had started collecting new maps when I was single, I’d have a collection of original antique maps now.

***It’s a joke.  We do not now, nor have we ever, owned anything by Thomas Kincade.  Not that there’s anything wrong with that.  (Okay, maybe there’s something a little wrong with it.)

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