Editor’s Note: Thomas Kinkade, known around the world as the “Painter of Light,” has co-authored The Many Loves of Marriage and The Many Loves of Parenting with his wife, Nanette. The Kinkades live with their four daughters in northern California. In an exclusive interview with AFA Journal, he discussed his views on art, marriage, and parenting.
October 2003 – AFAJ: What experiences in your life have contributed most to your style and your art?
TK: Well, when I got saved, the light came on in my life. It also came on in my art. I think before that, my art was very self-absorbed. I created either for financial reward or for some satisfaction or to get people to give me attention. It was all about me. And I think that’s the way a lot of artists approach their work.
Now, I see my art as a tool to minister. It is a way to bring comfort, hope and inspiration to people who need it. A painting goes on a wall, and it’s … silently bringing a message of hope and inspiration to people whose lives may be filled with dread, with pain, with anger, with hopelessness.
A ministry began to emerge, and it was something God sovereignly did. I was just attempting to follow Him day by day and see my work from a servant’s heart. He honored that and began to use those paintings to miraculously touch lives.
AFAJ: You talk about things spouses can do to cultivate a togetherness and enhance their relationship. What are some of the things you and your wife do to accomplish this?
TK: Well, for one thing, we don’t take ourselves too seriously. We laugh a lot, we laugh with our kids a lot. We like to do activities where we sit and talk. I have friends who say, “My wife and I love to go out on a date and we go to a movie.” Well, a movie is a mutual experience as you sit there passively watching the screen. How much more meaningful to sit on a couch somewhere, in front of a fireplace or in a restaurant someplace over a white tablecloth with a candle and look in each other’s eyes and really hear what is going on the other person’s life. We’ve worked at forming habits that allow us time to communicate deeply.
One choice that we made early on was to not have television as a part of our lives. That’s radical for some people to grasp because it seems that our whole culture is so inundated with media. But as we’ve led a media-free life, it’s opened us up to family time and to couple time. We talk every night. We sit with a book and read in our chairs after the kids are in bed.
Families should communicate. My wife is a big tea drinker, so she’ll make a pot of tea and we’ll share it and we just sit there and talk. The pace is slower, and we can understand what’s important to the other person because we’ve talked about it.
Another thing we try to do is choose non-technology or non-equipment activities. For example, walking. We live on the outskirts of a small town, and we would prefer to walk into town, which we do once or twice a week.
That sounds like a simple thing. But as you are walking, you’re talking with your kids, you’re chasing them, you’re laughing. Your oldest daughter is telling you stories about her day. You bump into neighbors and little conversations ensue.
The slower pace is something you have to fight for in our frenzied life in the 21st Century. It’s so easy to jump in the car and live in your car … always chasing something of meaning but never finding it. We actually have friends whose family meal is a drive-through and eating in the car as they drive on the way to the next soccer game.
Don’t tell me we don’t have control over those things, because we do. And it’s not some privileged existence I have because I’m an artist or I’ve been successful. That is hooey. We made the exact same choices when we first got married and we didn’t have a dime to our name.
In fact, Nanette was working an all-night schedule as a nurse, and I was working all night to be on the same time frame she was. A year and a half we lived that way. You know what our activities were? She’d come home, we’d go on a bike ride. We’d walk up and do our shopping together. We kept our lives focused on the same values early on, and those choices have carried over as we’ve faced the challenges that have come with the success we’ve had.
AFAJ: In your book on parenting, you talk about how you and Nanette met and some of the dreams you had even as kids. How was your world different from your daughters’ world today?
TK: We’re the most supportive parents you can imagine, yet we don’t support our children’s whims and materialistic urges. We have kids who are very sensible. They all work hard, they have jobs in the summer when they’re old enough and they make money and pay for their own clothing. We don’t hand them the keys to a brand new car when they reach 16.
You know there are challenges you have when growing up in a fairly affluent community like Silicon Valley, where we live, and you realize that many families establish their identities by what they own, and they pass that value system on to their kids. So we kind of instill in our kids the fact that this world is full of all kinds of blessings and anything in this life can be a blessing from God if you have the right attitude toward it. But Satan wants to pervert everything in this life and even take our material blessings and make them into idols that we worship.
I love being the kind of dad who gets involved with friends of my kids. When kids come over, at all the ages of our daughters, we really embrace them, we have fun with them. We always seem to have kids around the house. They’re attracted to coming here because they feel the love and fun that we have in this family.
I don’t want to be the one up here telling everybody, “Gee, here’s all these great things our family does,” and “Here’s how great my marriage is with Nanette,” and then look around and realize I haven’t spent the time with my kids that I wanted to.
I just want to be transparent and real. I set the expectation for every audience I speak to or every chance I get to be interviewed. There’s nothing particularly special about me or my life. My profession happens to be as an artist and I do have some degree of success and notoriety for the work that I do.
But we all struggle with these things, and there’s no such thing as a perfect marriage or perfect kids. I don’t set myself up as some pious, holier-than-thou individual who’s got his life totally dialed. I struggle in life every day to make sure that what I believe in is consistent with the way I live. We all have to work at it daily.
In this whole issue of family and marriage, I think the great thing is that, by trusting God, you can grow in these areas. You may not have the perfect marriage you dreamed of right now, but you know what? If you work at it, it’ll be better a year from now than it is now. My marriage, after 21 years, is happier, more satisfying, more fun than it’s ever been.
Our child-rearing experience is similar in that it just keeps getting better. You learn more about it. If you’re really concerned to be a good parent, God will teach you and you will have a chance to grow. You’ll never be perfect. I’m thankful God never made a perfect individual because that means we have to continuously depend