SXSW FILM FESTIVAL 2023 REVIEW! Thomas Kinkade is heralded as the “Painter of Light” by his business associates and legions of adoring fans. Ten years after his death, his family, critics, business partners, and director Miranda Yousef reflect on the artist’s illustrious and controversial career in Art for Everybody. Though mainly known for his sentimental portraits of cabins and Americana, the film dives deep into the complexities of the world’s highest-selling artist. The documentary charts Kinkade’s rise to fame and fall from grace, all while exploring the previously unseen “Kinkade vault.”
Yousef mixes archived footage of Kinkade with talking heads and retrospective interviews to gather a complete picture of the man behind the artwork. Her precise direction delivers each emotional beat at the perfect moment, focusing on the payoff over chronological composition. The documentary dips into Kinkade’s college years of bohemia, charges into his life as a born again Christian, and relishes in his delights leading an art empire. The filmmaker successfully introduces the viewer to Kinkade, the persona and the brand, before peeling back layers and discussing the person, adding a layer of authenticity and clarity to each interviewee.
So much of Art for Everybody follows a traditional rise-to-power and fall-from-grace structure. The story gives equal time to Kinkade’s adoring friends and his harshest critics while allowing his family to serve as both. Yousef never tries to immortalize or romanticize the painter but instead focuses on the person and his path to the limelight. The parallels between Kinkade as an artist and televangelists are prominent, critiquing and praising some of the most wholesome paintings in America. His family continues to add to the narrative, discussing Kinkade as a God-fearing man, business titan, distant father, and an addict of his ego.
“…charts Kinkade’s rise to fame and fall from grace…”
Going into a film covering the painter known for peaceful cabins, quiet bridges, and elegant light, one would not expect to find so much in common with Roadrunner: A Film About Anthony Bourdain. And yet the film does. Like that Bourdain film, this chronicles the life and, most of all, a career of a larger-than-life presence and captures the darkness behind-the-scenes. Admittedly Bourdain was much more punk rock and far less establishment than Kinkade. The two figures could not be more opposite.
Yet, Yousef uses many of the same emotional touchstones of Roadrunner. She expands through the revelations in Kinkade’s unseen works from the vault. Art for Everybody may not have an Iggy Pop-esque people’s champion of food like Bourdain, but the darker side of Kinkade gives the film an unexpected edge and a sense of life at the end that creates a compelling arc from start to close.
Kinkade, the artist or even the salesperson, comes across throughout the first half. Art for Everybody is enjoyable, informative, and has a fun montage set to “Picture Books” by the Kinks. The film drags a bit as we settle in for the hard-hitting realities of Kinkade, the person, the father, but never sacrifices the depth of his impact on each of his family members. While melancholy at the close, the documentary delivers a satisfying conclusion to the painter’s legacy, inviting those who criticized Kinkade to explore the man within the vault and encouraging those who loved him to continue escaping with the artist into the houses he painted.
Art for Everybody screened at the 2023 SXSW Film Festival.
"…creates a compelling arc..."