"Making money is art and working is art and good business is the best art." - Andy Warhol
Thomas Kinkade, I loath, and I used to actually admire him. Artistically, an average professional painter. Entrepreneurially, ground breaking. But in my never to be humble opinion, he had it comin‘!.
Let’s start with what I admired. He clearly defined his market, conservative Christians, and he “delivered” (no pun intended) a unique value proposition, and in a way that they would appreciate. How? This particular physiographic is quite literal. So Thomas Kinkade scattered lots of graphic symbols throughout his paintings to celebrate this group’s values. Little hearts signify the sanctity of marriage and the “Painter of Light”, a not so subtle reference to the light of Christ, used an over abundance of artistic devices to convey light. The result. Saccharine sweet paintings that make my teeth hurt.
Where it all went wrong was that he also leveraged the general ignorance of this market. A market that is not typically a group educated in arts and culture. By saturating the market with “limited edition” prints of 250,000, or more, he was out of integrity. In the state of California, Mr. Kinkade’s domicile, only 250 prints are considered “limited”, legally.
His genius? He used the franchise model to build his empire, a la eMyth’s approach to building a business. That’s right, all those Thomas Kinkade galleries that you see closing are franchises, like McDonalds. But many of these franchise owners sued him, forcing the company to delist from the New York Stock exchange.
Imagine. An artist with a company listed on the New York Stock exchange. I had to know more. So I actually interviewed one of his CPAs and he shared the basic mechanics and history of Thomas Kinkade’s empire. Horrified and fascinated, I thought, “What if I learned from his success but I applied these lessons in a way that I’m proud of and with integrity?” Isn’t that what Jesus would do?
Recently an arbitrator awarded franchise owners a $2.1 million judgment. And on Friday, the "Painter of Light" was arrested and jailed in Monterey for driving while under the influence. We're reminded again that integrity is the cornerstone to any lasting and prosperous enterprise, whether its oil and gas, banking, or art.
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