Why Sentimentality Makes Bad Art

Joe Carter, writing at the First Things site, on the work of Thomas Kinkade:

Sentimentality, as literary critic Alan Jacobs says in a recent interview with Mars Hill Journal, encourages us to “suspend judgment and reflection in order to indulge deliberately in emotion for its own sake.” Reflection reinforces and strengthens true emotions while exposing those feelings that are shallow and disingenuous. Sentimentalists, however, try to avoid this experience of reality and try to keep people from asking questions by giving them pleasing emotions they have not earned. The shameless manipulation of our emotions, says Jacobs, is the ultimate act of cynicism.

Kinkade’s cottage fantasies offer this sort of emotional manipulation. The cottages are self-contained emotional safehouses in which the viewer can shut himself off from true emotions earned through a real encounter with reality, from the rough and sometimes harsh realities of creation, and—most importantly—from other people. The Cottage by the Sea offers a place where the viewer can enter the perfect world of Kinkade’s creation—and escape the messy world of Kinkade’s Creator.

Note: Carter isn’t just bashing Kinkade. Read the whole thing for his discussion of Kinkade’s “inspiring work” as well as his “schlock.”

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