Reactor

George W. Bush’s Aristocratic “Art”

by Mostafa Heddaya on February 26, 2014

George_W._Bush_Presidential_Center_07_-_jpfagerback_-_2013-04-26

The George W. Bush Presidential Center is to host an exhibition of the man’s paintings (image via Wikipedia)

An old college friend once rented a townhouse in Dupont Circle in Washington, DC, from a retired spook who, in his later years, had taken up the avocation of painting. All he painted were phone booths, in a realist style that played primarily with light, and the house’s walls were covered in the vaguely creepy results. God knows what recesses of his psyche compelled him to put public telephones to canvas, but it was no doubt an interest cultivated by a certain rotten gentility, an insipid appreciation of painting as an aristocratic diversion for purifying the mind in its waning years (he was a Groton man) — respite and absolution after a lifetime of unpleasant business.

Similarly, it was recently announced that the 43rd president of the United States, the reluctant blue blood George W. Bush, would have a retrospective of his “paintings” at his Robert A. M. Stern-designed Presidential Library in Texas, titled The Art of Leadership: A President’s Personal Diplomacy. Though this is just the kind of soft story that reverberates in the media under the various guises of knowing snark, journalistic curiosity, or a sycophant’s reverence, the man’s atrocious paintings are not harmless distractions. Certain schools of criticism, or certain unschooled critics, might have you think otherwise, but sometimes an art object can only be assessed through its creator, especially if this person was once the most powerful man on the planet. Bush can paint a thousand puppies, or render himself in a bathtub brimming with his own crocodile tears, but that will never change the status of such works as the artifacts of a repulsive criminal, and a stain upon all honest art.

Presidents have painted before, but that doesn’t make this denunciation any less earned. Bush’s diplomacy was bloody, criminal, and disastrous; his “personal diplomacy” is of the same murderous hand.

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  • Michael Blum

    don’t you think the analogical function of your “similarly” (between subjects A and B) is a little overstated? do you really think that the amateur practice of painting (in retirement, in this case) renders the part-time artist a legatee of a distended and narcissistic tradition (or ideology) of “cultivation” proper to some erstwhile nobility? or is it the particular station of your first subject as a “retired spook” that makes this the case? i’m not asking rhetorically or sarcastically. obviously a polemical template like this is going to create a bit of a rustle but i found the first part about the “insipid appreciation of painting as an aristocratic diversion…” to be unnecessarily elitist/confounding.

    also to be clear i’m not inclined to argue with your verdict on Bush (although i’m also not so keen on the selective deployment of art-historical readings executed under the sign of “the death of the author,” … these “exonerations,” of course, occurring mostly only where argumentatively or politically convenient). obviously his paintings belong on Buzzfeed at best and his political resume speaks for itself but … about that first part?

  • Sam Binder

    you know who else painted? Hitler.

  • Beau Toutant

    I didn’t want to chime in but I feel I must. The term “spook” has another meaning besides spy. It’s an old derogatory racial slur. From the comments on fb and this site, most readers did not notice. But, for some of us more mature readers, this term is offensive. I thought you ought to be made aware. http://www.thefreedictionary.com/spook

    • Mostafa Heddaya

      Thanks for this note. Not at all what I intended, of course, but good to be aware of the term’s idiomatic history.

      • Beau Toutant

        Maybe the term should be contextualized to remove any doubt of your intended meaning. It can still be construed as a slur without context.

        • Shawn Chapman

          The context was perfectly clear; his friend rented a townhouse in Dupont Circle in Washington, DC, from a “retired spook” How does anyone not recognize he is speaking of an ex-CIA agent?
          If you give up your right to be offended the offence ceases.

          • Beau Toutant

            Owning a townhouse in DC implicates you as an ex-CIA agent? NOW I see. Seriously, I think another term should’ve been used. Commenting on this site is a blood sport, I know (and I am certain I am not an idiot). But, I do think “spook” is a derogatory term even relating to spying. You “young ins” don’t get it. The term is very disparaging. But, I don’t think hyper gives a damn.

          • http://hragv.com/ Hrag Vartanian

            I understand your sensitivity but there is a BBC show with that name, and I think the term has evolved past that usage: http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b006mf4b

          • Beau Toutant

            Fine. I don’t have a problem with the BBC title. I just think the author could’ve used something more definitive and less pejorative in describing a CIA agent or spy in this article. (Even with that usage, it’s slang.) I don’t know. I’m too old for this site. I lived with people who marched in the 60′s and the term still stings, no matter what the intent.

          • JHL27

            Beau, you are too old for this site and worse yet Pete Seeger just died so I assume you’re somewhat untethered. Tell us about the word “gay” next.
            But, get a grip son. You and I are about the same age and you’re exhibiting symptoms of my greatest concern about aging: lapsing into irrelevance and shaking fists at the sky.

          • Beau Toutant

            ‘Funny! You have no idea how old I am or what sex…for that matter. I just thought I’d enlighten. But, to no avail. I am too old for this site but I do believe I’m kinder, more accepting and open-minded. The “fists at the sky”? ‘Not my style.

          • JHL27

            I’ve got a pretty good idea of how old you are. It’s not hard given what you’ve written about and how you’ve written it. Only old people really think they can “enlighten” anything or anyone. It’s Santayana’s quote isn’t it?

            BTW: if you were “kinder, more accepting, and open-minded” you would not have brought up the marginal PC concept of “spook” as if anyone was going to mistake the writer’s intent and meaning. You do understand where the “official” CIA headquarters are, right?

            Tell us again about the morphing of the term “gay”. I never tire of stories of yesteryear.

          • Beau Toutant

            Enlighten…a Santayana quote??? Why, bless your heart! I did not know that. JHL, honey, in the South, we don’t discuss our ages. It’s unseemly. Hrag, you’ve got some cranky readers.

          • JHL27

            George Santayana – “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it”. So the aged attempt to enlighten by trotting out old stories and imperfect analogies, of which I never tire.

            Without knowing or realizing it, Santayana’s quote is a favorite strategic viewpoint for old folks, just before the shouting and fist shaking at the sky begin.

            Now when does “Father Knows Best” begin? Or “Queen for a Day”.

          • Beau Toutant

            Apparently, “ageism” is one of the last acceptable prejudices. (See comments by JHL27) I originally wrote just to let the writer know that the term he chose for CIA agent could be construed as having an offensive meaning. I sincerely regret having done so. (By the way, I’m younger than most renowned art writers and a female relative of the same. Yes, Beau can be a girl’s name.)

          • Shawn Chapman

            I apologize for the terseness of my comment. I was seriously not meaning to impune your intellect or person.

          • Barry MaCaukiner

            Kudos, Shawn Chapman!!

    • Shawn Chapman

      Please know that I am not calling you an idiot, but that comment was idiotic.

    • higgs merino

      You are going to spook the whole art herd.

      • Beau Toutant

        Uh-huh.

    • Barry MaCaukiner

      Does it take much time and energy to create something out of nothing, just to make a point? Or does it just come naturally to you? Do you simply wake up every morning with an agenda to find something – anything – that offends you so you can spread your narcissistic “teachable moments”?

      For the sake of us all . . . . . GET OVER YOURSELF!!

      • Beau Toutant

        Relaaaax, Barry

  • Brian Sherwin

    Our current President is a continuation of Bush in many ways… though Hyper rarely, if ever, points that out. If Bush is a criminal… Obama is a criminal as well. All of that aside, this article is a distraction from Obama’s recent jab against the ENTIRE art community — just as his ‘apology’ to the art historian was a distraction. At least Bush appreciates the art of painting. It seems clear to me that Obama only appreciates art if it is viewed as mere entertainment OR as a means of getting elected.

    • higgs merino

      They damn it, rename it , and expand it. Does even giving this war criminal any ink at all, help in presenting his vile legacy palatable and acrylic acumen tasteful? So ugly, so inevitable….his moral veneer to war crimes.

      • Brian Sherwin

        So what of Obama and his ‘war crimes’. Again, he is basically a continuation of Bush on the war front… where is all the outrage against him? Ha.

        • higgs merino

          Get off of my lawn, mister! I have a President who kills US citizens without trial and bookends it by having the 16 year son killed as well. Not “basically”…I’d say identically a continuation of many Bush policies coupled with a 5 year tech advantage. Rename it, then expand it. Will Boy George and O. have a double group painting show together in the future?

  • peeej

    All personal bias aside, I salute the former president for creating and sharing his art. Perhaps he enjoys the act of killing the canvas (as do I).

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