The only artist listed on the stock exchange, California native Thomas Kinkade has created a multimillion dollar media empire based on his nostalgic paintings of village cottages, gardens, and nature scenes. With a new book of fiction out, the born-again Christian talks about how God can anoint artists' creative expression.

You've described your work as a ministry. Could you expand on that?

I do a lot of work with charities. A work of art is something that can embody the message of a ministry, of a non-profit.

I did a painting called Bridge of Faith that a lot of people have been inspired by, and it was used as a fundraiser for World Vision. We set up a program where people could sponsor a child for a year and receive a copy of this print for free. So far over 62,000 kids have been sponsored. It's very exciting.

Recently we linked with the Salvation Army and raised a little over two million dollars for the relief effort after 9/11. It was through a print I did of the American flag at sunset, a very dramatic painting called The Light of Freedom.

I really think God gives us our creative talents as a tool to bring his light to the world. The darkness of the world is so evident--you can see that in the headlines every day. The only light that shines is God's love, his love for people all over, and it can be embodied in painting.

The painting goes in the home and it's in the home forever. It becomes a permanent partpart of that home, of that family. It's an inspiration to people--it reminds them that the world is not all ugliness and darkness, that there's God's light.

Did you paint the flag directly in response to 9/11?

Yes. I remember on the 12th I went into the studio and became almost like a recluse. I locked the door and didn't come out for several days. I was so horrified and astounded by the event, like most people were. I wanted to make a difference. I remember thinking "I'm not a firefighter, I'm not in the military, I'm not a relief worker--but I can come to the studio and make a difference through my art." I could only contribute what I had to give.

The night before I'd had a vision of this flag flying over the New York City skyline. The painting was anointed by God from the very first brushstroke. I began work and couldn't stop, and it just came together so beautifully at the end. And I was not sure how God would use this painting but I created prints from it. We'd been in discussion with the Salvation Army over other projects, and suggested that we use this as a fundraiser. Thousands of people wrote in from all over the country offering donations to the Salvation Army, and in return they got the print.

In the past you've said you paint for battle-weary people.

This makes it literally true. In the case of the battles we most often fight, it's the battle for sanity, family, for our value system, for our faith. There are forces throughout our world that would rob us of the joy of life.

What are some of those forces?

In the 21st century, we've been sold a bill of goods, which is that all our electronic media and all our technology will somehow enhance our life, when in fact the foundational joy in life still comes from simple things, like spending time with children, slowing down to enjoy a relationship with someone you love, giving selflessly of yourself, returning to nature.

I know you don't own a TV. Are there contemporary writers or musicians that you do feel embrace these values--whose work is meaningful to you?

Music can be a great inspiration to a culture. There are many meaningful artists who create music with the express goal of inspiring and touching the hearts of other people. The blind opera singer, Andrea Bocelli. He's someone we listen to a lot as an example of what an inspiration this man can be.

I was at a Paul McCartney concert the other day, and I was very touched by his sincerity and the love he had for his audience. He's making a difference. I think the different mindset is this: If your art is all about you, then chances are it will become self-absorbed and meaningless to others. But if you view your art as a tool wherein you might touch the lives of others, then likely you will make a difference in the world.

I had this same argument with my college professors at Berkeley. It's a staggering dilemma when we have an entire art community that views themselves as iconoclasts.

What might be in a painting from someone who embraces this idea of art being about the self? An example of what doesn't work for you?