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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Mostafa Heddaya

Mostafa Heddaya is the former managing editor of Hyperallergic.

15 replies on “George W. Bush’s Aristocratic “Art””

  1. 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?

  2. 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.

    1. 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.

      1. 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.

        1. 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?

  3. 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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