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Oddly, Bush’s Art Gives Reason To Cheer

ad_131588191I’m sure you all saw coverage of the exhibit showing portraits painted by former president George W. Bush. The show at the George W. Bush Presidential Center at Southern Methodist University was front page news, pictorially, in New York — here in The New York Times and here in The Wall Street Journal — and probably elsewhere too.

It was criticized as amateurish by some — most? — and I don’t disagree. So was Winston Churchill’s art, but it was still interesting that he could as well as he did, given all the other things Churchill did so well.

eeeeBush’s art, meanwhile, bears a lot of similarity, to me, to that of the overrated Elizabeth Peyton, whose work has sold for more than $1 million. Her portrait of Elizabeth II at sixteen, below left (versus Bush’s view of Angela Merkel, at right), fetched $518,500 at Christie’s. Others I know see Alex Katz in there and one misguided soul sees “a touch of Beckmann.” It would be a very tiny touch, imho.

So why cheer? The answer it in the NYT article:

Now on some days [Bush] spends three or four hours at his easel. The man who never much cared for museums — he rushed through the Hermitage Museum in St. Petersburg, Russia, in 30 minutes flat — told a private gathering the other day that he now could linger in art exhibits for hours at a time studying brush strokes and color palettes.

Bush’s newfound feelings underscore research findings that getting people to participate in art themselves leads them to visit museums. If we teach children to make art, no matter how primitive, a good proportion are likely to grow up to appreciate art and be museum visitors. That’s a better strategy for museums, it seems to me, than attracting those elusive young people with dance parties and other activities that have little, or nothing, to so with the art on view.

 

Comments

  1. Jim VanKirk says:

    By this logic Zimmerman deserves sophisticated criticism as well. You have to ask yourself how in the hell do we deserve these two? Guston said that doubt is the recognition of the validity of the alternatives. If it,s all valid then there,s nothing to aspire to.

    • I wasn’t saying that (btw, which Zimmerman?). Rather, I was asking why the art world puts a $1 mn. price on Peyton’s art, which isn’t so terribly different from GWB’s. I am open to arguments that it is different, soooo much better, but I haven’t heard any.

      More important, I’m saying that if a little DIY, however bad you may think it is, gets people to look at art, i’m for it.

      • Jim vankirk says:

        That,s the old “Well there will be so much exposure “argument and it doesn’t wash. The guy is such a pariah no one goes to his museum. Shame abounds at the NY times, or it should. ……George the murderer of Trayvon. That Zimmerman.

        • My feelings have nothing to do with “so much exposure” — not sure where you got that idea, and I’m not even sure I know what point you are making. The NYT has an obligation to cover the news — for all potential readers, not just those who agree with you — and this is news. There is no shame.

          • Jim VanKirk says:

            After an entire lifetime dedicated to the contemporary Arts I feel entitled to think for myself. Is this really your first “exposure” to the concept of the gratitude Artists are supposed to feel? This is not by any stretch of the imagination front page news and yes as connected to the NY scene as the Times is they deserve to be ashamed.

          • I haven’t a clue what you are talking about — whatever it is does not seem to refer to what I wrote (gratitude?) — but I am publishing your comment in case others do.

  2. VMFA’s audience has had a lively discussion about this. We have just posted your article as well.

  3. Interesting post in many respects. It reminds me that, like Winston Churchill, Dwight D. Eisenhower became an amateur painter—one of no small accomplishment, as I discovered in research for a future article on his work. It will be interesting to see how George W. Bush evolves.

    I would appreciate knowing of any articles that cite information regarding his painting technique—whether he works from photographs, from life, or from sketches, or any combination of these. The same with reference to landscapes and other subjects (see one such painting in Jerry Saltz’s “George W. Bush Is a Good Painter!” [http://www.vulture.com/2013/02/jerry-saltz-george-w-bush-is-a-good-painter.html] from last year).

    Louis Torres, Co-Editor, Aristos (An Online Review of the Arts)

  4. I think you have the perfect encapsulation of the issue: “If we teach children to make art, no matter how primitive, a good proportion are likely to grow up to appreciate art and be museum visitors. That’s a better strategy for museums, it seems to me, than attracting those elusive young people with dance parties and other activities that have little, or nothing, to do with the art on view.”

    Really, that says it all.

  5. A postscript—Roberta Smith* reports that the former president “works from photographs.” If so, one can only hope that he will follow the example of Dwight D. Eisenhower before him who, according to his first biographer, historian Kenneth S. Davis (‘Dwight D. Eisenhower: Soldier of Democracy’), eventually “began to paint portraits of Mamie, his grandchildren, and friends from life [and at] the same time . . . started to paint landscapes ‘on site’ whenever he could.” Though most art critics and writers will disagree, the case can be made that paintings based exclusively on photographs are not, strictly speaking, art. – L.T.

    * http://www.nytimes.com/2014/04/07/arts/design/george-w-bushs-art-exhibition-at-presidential-center.html?_r=0

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