COMMENTARY | In the news still today are more criticisms of former U.S. president George W. Bush’s paintings. Greg.org unveils new criticism, apparently so prominent as to be posted on Digg, of the president’s paintings of fellow world leaders. Frequently, Bush’s paintings have been derided as unoriginal, lacking artistic merit, and “lazy” for being based on the subjects’ Wikipedia profile pictures or the first photos appearing in Google Images. Though I am no fan of George W. Bush or the Republican Party, I find the criticism of Bush’s paintings laughably politicized.
If Nancy Pelosi or Hillary Clinton had created perfectly identical paintings, most of these “expert” art critics would likely be prancing with praise. The paintings’ lack of avant-garde-ness, criticized when painted by Bush, would likely be praised as “bold” and “no-nonsense” if painted by a liberal, particularly a female liberal. Bush’s “lack of originality” would become “reflective of the democratic majority” if a liberal had held the brush. “Simple” becomes “powerful,” “unoriginal” becomes “accessible to the masses,” and “lazy” becomes “results-oriented.”
While art is supposed to speak to us, are the Bush painting critiques perhaps doing more of the talking? Do they highlight a political divide that we often try to keep hidden in polite conversation? Are Bush’s paintings the Rorschach test our nation needs?
Perhaps we can determine our true level of political unity or disunity through the lens of George W. Bush’s paintings.
Many experiments could be done. An identical art exhibition with identical paintings could be held, this time featuring a prominent liberal politician as the painter. What is the reaction of critics and the public? People could be asked to opine about each politician’s policies and legacy…and then opine about the art. Are their opinions similar? More favorable when writing about the politics but not the art? More favorable when writing about the art but not the politics?
Could we literally see art differently when we hold preconceived notions about the artist? This intrigues me greatly.
I have long wanted to run my own experiment about the subjectivity of viewer demand for art based on the independent variable of the artist’s appearance and demeanor. You would take an art gallery and, on different days of the week, have the same gallery owner act as different “characters”: One day you would have a stereotypical “artsy” gallery owner, wearing tight black jeans and a black turtleneck, and using lots of buzzwords like “my craft” and “joie de vivre” and on one day you would have a “laid-back” gallery owner, dressed in looser, more comfortable clothing, who just “likes art.”
Would patrons buy more art from one, viewing the art as more or less valuable based on the characteristics of the gallery owner/artist? Similarly, do we view art as more or less valuable or valid depending on the characteristics of the politician/artist?