Dear Mr. Berko: In 1993, I fell in love with the art of Thomas Kinkade. I purchased one of his beautiful pieces, paying $19,000 for a modest canvas of a cabin beside a river with mountains in the background. It's beautiful and peaceful, and the colors are magnificent. Just thinking about this painting gives me a great amount of pleasure. An ex-student (I used to be an English literature professor) who has been my chiropodist for 16 years reluctantly gave me terrible news: My $19,000 Kinkade is worth only a few hundred dollars at best. About the same time, a close associate purchased two signed Kinkade prints and paid more than he could afford. Now we are told that his prints are basically worthless. Many devotees have purchased Kinkade's art because of its unique and exquisite beauty and believed his body of work would appreciate in value. This is very hurtful to me and several others whom I know. How could this beautiful art implode in value? Is there any chance that Kinkade's work will return to its original value? I will look forward to your earliest response. — PC, Oklahoma City
Dear PC: The last time I came across the word "chiropodist" was in 1991. I was backpacking in the Kashmiri Himalayas and met a retired "foot doctor," an American expatriate who retired to Srinagar with his Pakistani wife. I'm just guessing, but was that the year you retired from teaching English literature?
Tens and tens of thousands of folks were just as enchanted and captivated by the unique style of Thomas Kinkade, who looked like a younger version of Ernie Kovacs. I am one of them, but I've never owned his work. Kinkade's scenes, colors and composition were captivating, mesmerizing, harmonizing, enthralling, seductive and all the other adjectives that artsy-tartsy folks use when they acknowledge talent and recognize potential. If Thomas had created just 100 or so canvases, yours might have been worth multiple tens of thousands of dollars today. However, the almost tsunamic demand for his canvases was so overwhelming that Thomas wisely decided to go commercial before the paint dried. So he created what amounted to an industrial assembly line and began to bang out myriad idyllic, Arcadian and bucolic eclogues on canvas. And because of Thomas' prodigious output, the supply exceeded demand, and values collapsed. Why? Well, it's called Berko's law of exclusivity. Everybody who wanted a Kinkade could afford an original. There's a fascinating lesson here: Basically, the pricing of art is a farce.
Thomas got very rich very quickly, and good for him; he deserved it. The rest of his life is another story. Aficionados who believed he was a saint and adored their $40,000 canvases and $3,000 prints suddenly thought he was gauche. But I'm told that Kinkade's original early works, which were peddled by his wife for $30 to $50 during their salad days, now sell for a few hundred dollars and may have value for collectors. And who knows? In this kooky, fatuous, drug-laced art world, all of Kinkade's work could become highly desirable again. Good artists, as knowledgeable collectors know, are made, not discovered. The work of most of today's highly regarded artists was considered dreadful when these guys were living; they had to die to become valuable.
Sadly, your friend's signed prints can be bought for about a sawbuck each. Thomas figuratively produced tons of them, and his silk-screens could be worth as little as an Elvis on velvet. But your original canvas (there are so many reproductions that it's difficult to know whether you have a real Kinkade) may be worth a dinner at Mahogany Prime Steakhouse or Cattlemen's Steakhouse in OKC. Thomas' later canvases, produced in the 1990s, might fetch only $50 to $70, and the reproductions (though beautiful) aren't worth a fin or a fiver. However, Professor, will you still love your Kinkade knowing it's worth only a few hundred dollars?
Please address your financial questions to Malcolm Berko, P.O. Box 8303, Largo, FL 33775, or email him at [email protected] To find out more about Malcolm Berko and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate website at www.creators.com.