Musings on George W. Bush’s paintings

george w catI’d have to stretch hard to make President George W. Bush’s recently leaked new paintings have anything to do with politics in Alaska. With enough work, I could tie the subject into the 1 percent for art program, or even the film tax credits, or use the paintings to offer advice to Sarah Palin on how to win hearts and minds. But I don’t want to work that hard on a Thursday morning, particularly since this whole blogging thing is a labor of love that’s quickly turning into something else.

The fact is, I like W.’s paintings for no other reason than I like them. I find them fascinating. I particularly like the ones recently leaked to Gawker. And I’m not alone. When the new paintings were leaked, The Daily Beast called on readers to “Rejoice.” MSNBC host Chris Hayes went as far as to write that he was rooting for W. to “become one of the greatest American painters of his time.”

That W. is an amateur artist now going through a “cat period” has probably done more to resurrect his reputation than any speech he could have made, any funds that he could have given to any philanthropic venture.

Why we rooting for his artistic ventures? Why is there something about a former president painting his feet that is so uplifting? Why can’t we stop staring? Psychological theories about the id, the inner versus outer W., abound. But the answer, according to Marc Tracy at the New Republic, might be less complicated, and feels about right:

The paintings are proof that Bush is an artist—that he invests his energies and imagination in creating works that are meant to be aesthetically pleasing and serve no utilitarian purpose. And being an artist is proof that Bush is an honest-to-God person, not the nightmarish, vague presence we all remember. It’s not even that Bush has a soul, just as it’s not even that the paintings are all that good. (And, I mean, are they, really?) It’s that he is of the same species as we are. He possesses an inner life—the very thing whose apparent absence seemed to connect all of his worst outer traits, from his intellectual incuriousness to his bullying nature (the nicknames!) to his economic cruelty to his foreign militarism. The paintings are a reminder that—as Philip Roth wrote of the White House during the Clinton years—a human being lived there. Someone who provided unprecedented funding for combating AIDS in Africa and evinced tolerance at a personal level. A son, a husband, a father.

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