Tag Technique

Thomas Kinkade on Making Stuff Suck

This is terrifying… yet lucrative! According to a memo captured by agents of Vanity Fair, it seems Thomas Kinkade and I share similar ideas with respect to capturing the interest of viewers. Let us examine this awful coincidence more closely!

11) Hidden spaces. My paintings always feature trails that dissolve into mysterious areas, patches of light that lead the eye around corners, pathways, open gates, etc. The more we can feature these devices to lead the eye into mysterious spaces, the better.

Here, Mr. Kinkade clumsily alludes to a technique employed by artists since art began: create a setting, but leave room for the viewer’s imagination. In opening avenues leading to unknown and unseen places, the artist encourages viewers to imagine what might be around that corner, down that pathway, or through that open gate in the presented context.

12) Surprise details. Suggest a few “inside references” that are unique to this production. Small details that I can mention in interviews that stimulate second or third viewings — for example, a “teddy bear mascot” for the movie that appears occasionally in shots. This is a fun process to pursue, and most movies I’m aware of normally have hidden “inside references”. In the realm of fine art we refer to this as “second reading, third reading, etc.” A still image attracts the viewer with an overall impact, then reveals smaller details upon further study.

Is Mr. Kinkade speaking of parasignals? I’ve never run across the terminology he employs (“second reading, third reading, etc.”) but I don’t read a lot of art criticism. In any case, parasignals are intended to appeal to the viewer’s innate curiosity about the messages conveyed in a given work of art. I would argue this technique is only effective if viewers are attracted to the surface message or aesthetic appearance of the work. Someone who despises the visual appearance of your work is disinclined to decode parasignals included within it.

There’s surely more to discuss from this memo, but I’ll leave it there for now. Thanks to Kottke.org for highlighting the article.


Today, I wanted to write a bit about the “secrets” in Speed + Time… and “secrets” in artwork generally.

In graphic design classes, communication of a message is typically broken into three components: alphasignal, parasignal, and infrasignal. In short: alphasignal is understood to be the message itself, parasignal is the way that message is being conveyed, and infrasignal is the behavior of the source of the message. (Note: If you’re interested in greater detail, read Crawford Dunn’s paper on the subject — it’s great.)

I am fascinated by strong parasignals in artwork — particularly, parasignals which reinforce (or contradict!) the alphasignal or which decode to different messages depending on the audience.

All artists include parasignals — conscious or unconscious — in the production of their work. Conscious inclusion of parasignals would seem to have two immediate benefits. First, the elevation of the creative challenge — which, ideally, would force the artist down new creative avenues. Second, the increased interest of the artwork’s audience (either in further appreciation of the message conveyed by the work or born of curiosity over the mechanism by which that message was delivered).

To provide a concrete example, I’ve created a diagram which illuminates the parasignals consciously included in Speed + Time. When looking at the diagram below, ask yourself what would happen if those elements were removed. Now that you realize their presence and know their meaning, would you consider them essential to the message conveyed in the artwork?

(My apologies if this comes across somewhat muddled — I’m low on sleep. Let me know what you think!)

(My further apologies for the awful title of the artwork referenced in this post. I’ll edit it to something more fittingly lyrical soon.)