HELP DESK: Is it any wonder?

Welcome to HELP DESK, where I answer your queries about making, exhibiting, finding, marketing, buying, selling -- or any other activity related to -- contemporary art. Together, we'll sort through some of art's thornier issues. Email with your questions and save the comments section to chime in on the topics of the day. All submissions remain anonymous.

HELP DESK is a weekly column written for and is sponsored in part by

Your counselor, hard at work.

What are your thoughts on Thomas Kinkade?

Since this question was written to me before the maestro died, I'm going to answer it aside from the issues that have been raised since his untimely demise. My thoughts on Kinkade are quite simple: I feel that in many ways he is no different from Damien Hirst and that it's a useful exercise to see exactly where the two artists overlap. The main similarity, of course, is that they both make market-driven work that simultaneously panders and condescends to their respective audiences, but I think they also have a whiff of the totalitarian to them.

The Painter of Light (tm) and the Painter of Dots. Are they really so different?

Of course, I'm not the only one who finds either artist's output objectionable. On the face of it, Kinkade's main sin was peddling pablum: hyper-sentimental paintings of garden cottages executed by assistants in saleable colors and hangable dimensions that never challenged the ability of their owners to display above the front hall console or the living room couch. We could argue that Hirst does more or less the same thing from the other end of the professional artist spectrum, provided that the loft walls of his über-rich collectors are large enough. His incredibly un-provocative dot canvases are painted by a squadron of rent-hungry MFAs and are designed to be, if not beautiful or thought-provoking, at least reassuringly easy to identify in terms of market value. The two artists concentrated on creating a trafficable commercial product, though one is placed in the galleria and the other you can find at Sotheby's. Aside from the base distinctions of high and low, if Kinkade's paintings insist on a revisionist bucolic America that--for his spiritually-certain followers--reinforce a sense of nostalgia for a time that never existed, then Hirst's "spin paintings" must bring a similar peace of mind to their investment-savvy owners.

In terms of oeuvre, both Kinkade's and Hirst's formulaic work evokes the monolithic and oppressive. Even though stylistically they are worlds apart, they are steadfast in the assertion of their belief systems. Kinkade's ideologically-loaded work creates an unyielding, emotionally sanitized vision of the home territory, while Hirst's aesthetics are simplistic to the point of vapidity. Both bodies of work are so defined by sheer economics that they surpass any concern for the defining principles of art and satisfy only the cynical dictatorial control exercised by the free market.

The cast of the first season of "Work of Art" (image:

How do you become a famous artist? I am an artist and make lots of art (performance, paintings, drawings, etc.) but I never went to art school. What should I do to slowly but surely become better known in the art world?