George W Bush’s art debut is sure to be an international draw as the world looks to see whether their leaders were rendered flatteringly or not. Critics will have to decide whether to pan or praise the works based, not on taste and technique, but on the political statement they could be making. For everyone else whose jobs do not depend on the good will of politicians, it can fairly be said that the former world leader’s art just is not attractive and it raises the question, “Why exactly is this in a museum?” The answer to that question is what is really on exhibit here as the display George W. Bush’s amateur paintings raise questions about fame and its effects.
The paintings are currently being displayed at the George W. Bush Presidential Center in Dallas, Texas, a fitting memorial to the man who led the United States through the 9/11 terrorist attacks and the subsequent wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Regardless of politics, the art exhibit has the air of giving the true portrait of a man known both for his gaffes and for everyone else’s ridicule of him. Somewhat awkwardly for his detractors, the former president’s artistic works show a softer side of him, a likeable side, even a good side of man who has been called a war criminal by some.
That is the true mission of all art: to show a different side that cannot be covered by the cold, rational, factual lives that most people lead. It is a subtle, nuanced way of looking at human nature, and George W Bush’s paintings do just that for the oft-maligned president. What exactly that nature is, however, is something that people will debate for a long while to come.
One art critic, Alastair Sooke of The Telegraph, had very little good to say about the works on display. He called them “dreary” and “impersonal.” He likened the artworks to the way Bush talks, which he characterized as “ham-fisted” and “bungling,” even if they were interesting. While much has been made of Bush’s natural artistry, for a professional art critic used to critiquing works that number some of the best in the world, this little art show is little more than a local amateur’s first display. There is little redeeming in covering an amateur, but the fact is that this is not just “some amateur.”
This is where the issue of fame really raises questions about George W Bush’s paintings. Two questions are vitally important here: would a critic like Alastair Sooke normally cover an exhibit like this? And why does anyone care about it anyway? After all, if it was anyone else doing this, no one would be interested and it would remain just a blip in the life of some amateur artist with not enough talent to be a great artist.
The fact is that Alastair Sooke and others would not be covering this type of event except for the fact that the man who created these paintings is himself famous. That is also the only reason why anyone in the world cares. The fact is, there is little of artistic value in these paintings beyond what a normal person can accomplish if he puts his mind to it. But George W. Bush is not a normal person. He is one of the most infamous presidents the United States has ever had and that alone is enough to draw the attention of millions.
In that case, this art exhibit takes on the air of a display of a serial killer’s artwork going up for display. Murderabilia, as it is called, is regularly sold on the internet and people seem to have a morbid fascination with it. That same kind of fascination is what is drawing people to George W. Bush’s artwork. It is the fascination of seeing someone who has been completely reviled in a new light.
If George W. Bush were a normal president, this art exhibit would have been a simple news story, a little bit of interest, a few photo galleries, and no one would care later. But because he is the perpetrator of the longest and some of the most controversial wars in American history, this story has become much bigger than that, ballooning even into an international story. Because of his infamous reputation, Bush’s fame is what is drawing people to this exhibit. It seems that no matter what someone is famous for, that fame is enough to make anything interesting.
Art has its own merits. It enhances an otherwise unbearable world by showing the better, more beautiful side of everything. Even tragedy can be transformed into great and moving art. But George W. Bush’s paintings do not do that. They are a gawk fest that will yield little edifying content to the world. They are fascinating only for what they reveal about a man with a terrible history. Because of this, critics should be raising questions about the role of fame and its effects when reviewing George W Bush’s paintings, though no doubt there will be little dialogue about that and more speculation about which world leader looks the best on canvas.
Opinion By Lydia Webb