An Analysis of the Thomas Kinkade Calendar for February

This month’s painting is all about journeys.

Columbus setting out for the new world. Greek soldiers descending on Troy to recapture the beautiful Helen. The ancient Israelites entering the Promised Land. These were legendary journeys of discovery, vengeance, and deliverance, and they all took place on water. And what was the vehicle that allowed them? Boats, mostly. And Moses. But it is boats, both physically and metaphorically, that allow you to venture out into lands unknown to experience a new adventure, or perhaps just a fresh start in life.

But, let’s face it: why take a sailing vessel somewhere when there are charming little footbridges to walk across? And so in this painting, “The Bridge of Hope,” that is what we see. Clearly, this painting is symbolic. The viewer is placed in the foreground, in a lush and idyllic forest hideaway with manicured masonry, but we can recognize the territory on the other side of the bridge, which is yet another lush and idyllic forest hideaway with manicured masonry. So, wait: what is this journey about? Where is the hope? Which side is it on? And where is the Bridge of Hope souvenir shop? The answer to all these questions is quickly realized when we pan out to look at the entire page. And that answer is: branding.

Do you notice what was in the right-hand corner where we started our journey? It was Kinkade’s signature. Or, it’s not really a signature, exactly, but a market-conscious and carefully typeset monogram that’s signature-reminiscent. And what is in the upper left hand corner, where our journey concludes? Yes, it’s Kinkade’s name, but now also there is a new title—“Painter of Light”—and a slick logo to go with it. This is Kinkade’s own journey: the transformation from a man into a brand, from a lone warrior poet into the commander of the Kinkadian army. And what the picture tells us is that this was a journey that smelled like forsythia, and where he didn’t have to get his Skechers Shape-ups wet. Lest you doubt it, look at the giant subliminal TM hidden in the bridge. May the road rise to give you marketing tips, young traveler.

This is also Kinkade at his most political. Who builds bridges? It is corporations, not people. And while the Kinkade corporation can churn out widgets of inspiration, only a robust public works department can build actual infrastructure. This is what the painter seems to be crying out for in this image. Which of our politicians has talked about building a bridge to the 22nd century? None of them. Is the infamous “Bridge to Nowhere” project completed yet? Of course not—otherwise it would be to Somewhere. Ask the residents of Terabithia. Their bridge turned out to be complete fiction.

So, are you listening, America? We need to produce future Painters of Light. We need the Painter of Affordable Vacation Homes, Painter of After It Rains And It’s All Shimmery Looking, Painter of Faces Where The Eyes Follow You, etc. But we can’t get there from here. It’s up to you, Washington.

Previously: January

Drew Dernavich is a cartoonist for the New Yorker magazine (not that cartoonist – the other one) and the co-creator of the cartoon improv show Fisticuffs! He is on Twitter.