Okay, I have to chime in on the George Bush paintings.
And what I'm about to say may surprise, anger, annoy and offend some of you. Nothing new there. And that's why I feel a need to get this out in the open.
Here's my disclaimer: I am not defending Bush as a president. Like my feelings about pretty much every politician who's held public office since James Monroe's terms, there were things about him I didn't like, and there were a few things about him I did like.
If you are not aware, like many retirees, George W. Bush, POTUS 43, has taken up painting.
I am pro-arts. I am pro-creative anything. If someone has a desire to create, anything, I think they should do so with as much gusto as they can muster. I also feel, strongly, that the joy is not in the final result. The joy is in the inspiration and the process. Consequently, I really don't care what the end result looks like. If someone truly enjoys what they're doing, that is the the art. Loads of people have creative desires lurking in their brains but never, ever pursue them. They dismiss the urge as frivolous, a waste of time, or, most often, they presume they'll never be good at it so they never even try it.
That is truly sad.
Because everyone needs a hobby. And everyone should at least attempt to do the thing they think they'd like to do. Painting, playing an instrument, dancing, sculpting, making macramé owls or carving tabby cats out of found driftwood...whatever creative pursuit interests a person should be pursued. Using the creative parts of the brain is rewarding in ways far beyond the obvious. It exercises underutilized areas of the brain. This can lead to lateral thinking when using other areas of the brain. Which means those weekend xylophone lessons can lead to solutions to spreadsheet dilemmas Monday-Friday.
It doesn't matter if you do it well, the joy is in the pursuit. The personal growth is in the act of learning something new and creating something, anything.
Consequently, I will never be a good art critic. In my eyes, and in my heart, any painting is a good painting. Anytime anyone acts on an impulse to do something creative, great things happen.
Museum-worthy or gallery-worthy things? Maybe not. Or maybe. That's in the eye of the beholder. And up to the creator.
For those who don't know what outsider art is, here's a little lesson. In the Art World, there are "outsider artists." Outsider artists are people who create without the benefit of the usual art pedigrees and support of the gallery world. Often they are completely self taught. Some outsider artists are fabulous. Some are trying to be fabulous, but most often the really incredible outsider artists have no clue how truly special their work is. They're just doing it, you guessed it, because they love the process. What makes their work special (beyond whatever talent and vision they may possess) is their innocence and lack of inhibition. The are utterly without affectation. They're driven purely by passion and vision and the desire to create. They don't give two hoots about what's going on in the art world. They forge ahead with their own unfettered style and technique.
I've noticed a lot of outsider artists who gain notoriety are uncomfortable with the fame. Even success seems to make them nervous. These are people who thought, "You know what? I've always wanted to try painting." So they took a painting class or watched a couple old episodes of Bob Ross and put their own brushes to canvas, just for fun and for the creative outlet. Someone sees something in their results, a couple local gallery showings later your Aunt Polly is showing at Art Basel and partying with Damien Hirst. You might want to hang onto those mittens she knitted you for Christmas a few years ago because their value is on the rise. See how weird it can get, really quickly?
POTUS 43 apparently took, or is taking, painting lessons. I presume not at a legit art school. I also presume he is not pursuing gallery showings and does not intend to sell his paintings. Which makes him an amateur. And, now that his work is posted all over the internet, "shown," he's an outsider artist. Perhaps an unwitting outsider artist, but an outsider artist nonetheless.
Because POTUS 43 didn't arrange a gallery showing, or even post images on his own blog or website (does he even have either?), I have to come to his defense. The story is that his email was hacked and jpgs of his paintings were discovered and publicly posted on sites seen 'round the world. Presumably for mockery or for people desperately trying to dissect Dub's psyche.
I read an interview with Laura Bush where she mentioned that her husband has taken up painting. I thought, "He is a normal retiree!" And yes, I envisioned him with an easel and a Bob Ross painting kit set up in front of a television with an old VCR and tapes of The Joy of Painting. Okay? Yes, that's what I envisioned. Happy little clouds. And yes. I honestly thought, "Good for him. Painting is a great creative outlet and a fantastic stress reliever." That's it. Those were the sum total of my thoughts on POTUS 43 painting.
So when I read that some of his work was "released" via ill gotten methods, I was reluctant to view the paintings.
Why? Not out of respect for the former president.
Out of respect for a human being.
My great-grandfather was a woodcarver. A really, really good woodcarver. A woodcarver of renown. As in church interiors and ships and relief sculptures all over Norway. When my dad was a small boy, his grandfather (the woodcarver) visited America a couple times and taught my dad some woodcarving basics. Eventually my dad inherited a few of his grandfather's tools. My dad dabbled with woodcarving and woodworking throughout his life. I think it made him feel connected to his grandfather and his roots back in the old country. When he was working and raising three kids, he didn't have the time to fully develop the hobby, but he dabbled when he could. When he retired he wanted to jump into woodworking and woodcarving big time. He read books, took classes and really got into it. His first attempts were, well, you know, not great. But we all knew what it meant to him, it was more than just taking up a hobby. So we all supported and encouraged his woodcarving and woodworking. It wasn't as if he was out there selling himself as a woodcarver or woodworker. He was having a blast enjoying his hobby and learning the techniques, and that was that. Criticism, public or otherwise, of his work was unnecessary. He was learning, not trying to pass himself off as a professional.
Is George W. Bush's retirement hobby any different from my dad's? Does the fact that he was POTUS exclude him from pursuing a hobby in retirement? It's great that Laura (and I presume the rest of the family) supports him. That's what families, especially wives, do. In a weird way, I find myself liking these people, the Bushes, more as a result of the viral paintings. Ridiculing his professional acumen is one thing. His policies and decisions that impacted the country and the world are fair game. Scrutinizing, ridiculing, debating and mocking...all is fair in politics. But what he does now, in retirement, privately, as a hobby, is not fair game.
I would be mortified for anyone to see some of my high school or even first year art school projects. Cripes, for the entirety of my career I've been professionally concepting and laying out designs, drawing renderings and even illustrating when necessary, and I still have an off day or week that produces "art" that goes straight to trash (physical or digital). I would be mortified if anyone saw those less-than-professional looking pieces. They don't represent me at my best, or even at my passing grade. They're failed attempts, and I know they're failed attempts. I know they're bad. And I don't care that they're bad, I just keep working at it and hopefully, eventually, get it right. But that doesn't mean I want anyone to see the attempts along the way.
Think about it, think beyond art, what's lurking in your draft mail box or hard drive that you wouldn't want anyone to see? Maybe you have a dream resignation letter/manifesto wherein you mention every annoying trait your coworkers possess. It's cathartic to write it and beats turning to drugs or alcohol to cope with your work environment, and you never intend for anyone to actually view it. What if you were hacked and someone posted that letter/manifesto on a website or blog? Actual names are mentioned in the letter/manifesto. Oh crap.
Or maybe you dabble in photo retouching and made some attempts at putting your mother's head on your dog's body. Kinda funny after a couple drinks in the safety and privacy of your couch on a Tuesday night, but do you really want anyone, especially your mother, to see it? Or maybe you'd be okay if your mother saw it, depending on her sense of humor she might get a kick out of it, so you email it to her. You both have a good laugh because your mother loves your dog and she just has that kind of sense of humor. She knows you love her and respect her, it's all in fun. Then her email is hacked (because your mother doesn't understand secure passwords and uses Mom123 as her password for everything) and along with her bank account info, the jpgs of your dog-mother are lifted. Then someone you don't even know posts your dog-mother photo on their blog. And makes fun of it. And you. And your mother. Yeah. That's really upsetting. And creepy. And weird. And you come off looking like an immature, disrespectful jerk.
So. That's why, when the images first surfaced, I resisted looking at them. POTUS 43 didn't intend for anyone to see them. He's a new at this. Just learning basic techniques. His painting bike is a tricycle because a two wheeler with training wheels is still a little too advanced for him. As it would be for almost anyone at this stage of learning how to paint.
But because he's a former president, and I presume especially
because he's George W. Bush, it's deemed perfectly okay to hack and then
publicly flog him for his creative pursuits. I sincerely hope this doesn't thwart his enthusiasm
for painting. Everyone deserves to pursue and enjoy whatever creative
outlet they choose without scorn or ridicule. My dad's woodcarvings were a source of joy and relaxation for him. My dad worked really (really) hard at a very stressful job for a lot of years. When he retired he finally had time to try things he always wanted to try. Why would anyone scorn or ridicule him for that? POTUS 43 and his paintings are no different.
I know. I'm just one impassioned YouTube video away from the "Leave Britney alone!" kid. Maybe I'll paint something and title it, "Leave George W. Bush alone!" Were POTUS 43's new hobby golf or gardening I wouldn't be worked up about this. But because I feel so passionately about creative expression, the pursuit, not the results, I do feel a need to come to his defense - his defense and everyone else who has the ambition (and courage) to try something new and use the creative parts of their brain.
Of course first attempts are mediocre at best, which is why a lot of people never even try a creative pursuit. They're too afraid to look stupid or bad at it. They know they won't be perfect the first time out, and, worse (in their eyes) there will be physical proof in the form of a bad painting or a macrame owl that doesn't resemble an owl. When I work with Girl Scouts in the 10 - 13 year age range I see a lot of this. Girls who are bursting at the seams to express themselves in some creative form steadfastly refuse to do so because they are frightened of looking stupid or embarrassing themselves. Persuading them to enjoy the pursuit, not the end result, is a huge hurdle. Huge. So I give a ton of credit to anyone, even POTUS 43, who gets past their inner 12-year-old girl and jumps into a creative pursuit.
So this was my mindset on the hacked images of the paintings. I refused to even take a peek at them.
Then a friend sent me a link saying, "Puppies and kittens!" I trust this friend, the worst thing she's ever done to me via email links is Rick Roll me, we both love dogs and cats, so naturally I clicked on the link without even looking at the url.
And there it was. An online gallery of George W. Bush's paintings. The very paintings I vowed to ignore.
I couldn't unsee them.
So, since I saw them, I tried to
remove the painter from the subject and just look at them as what they
are: A retiree's hobby, first attempts at painting.
They're perfectly fine for a new art student, even kinda good considering he's just learning how to paint. I gotta hand him credit for the shoulder blade detail in the shower scene (yes, there's a shower scene). A lot of first and second year life drawing students struggle with the proportions and placement of shoulder blades. They often end up looking like they're not connected to the shoulder and couldn't possibly support or move an arm. POTUS 43's aren't perfect, but they're not bad for a beginner.
And then I saw "it." The one that I found compelling. I'm trying not to read more into it than what's really there, but, either unwittingly or purposely, it's a study in American psychology. The fact that the painter is George W. Bush is takes it to another level.
If I had a job and money to spend, and if a print of the painting were available, I would spend good money on a print of what I'll call, "No Dogs Allowed at the White House." It features a dog on the public side of the White House fence. The fence's bars are huge and jail cell looking. The dog's expression changed every time I looked at it: from melancholy, to sinister, to disaffected. The symbolism, intended or not, is brilliant. Add to that the rudimentary execution and the identity of the painter, and I gotta say, it is one compelling piece of illustration.
I'm not condoning how these paintings came into the public forum. And I am not entering into the public flogging of the painter. Which is why I'm not posting links or images. If you want to see them, Google Bush and painting and Gawker or Hyperallergic.com.
But. A better idea is to go create something yourself. Try a creative endeavor and enjoy it. Use that part of your brain and see what happens to the rest of your life. (It'll be good, I promise.)
Labels: George W. Bush, Painting