Art Professor Critiques the Artwork of Presidents & Dictators
During George W Bush’s presidency he was called many things. ‘President’, ‘Dictator’, ‘Commander in Chief’ or ‘ War Criminal’. What is certain is no one ever referred to him as George ‘The Artist’. But in 2013 a hacker broke into the Bush family email accounts and leaked George’s paintings. The most shocking pieces were self-portraits of the Commander in Chief in his bathtub…naked. He has since released dozens of portraits of dogs and dignitaries that he met through work. And he is not alone, many iconic world leaders were also painters in their spare time and I set out to get an expert’s opinion on them.
I sat down with internationally renowned art critic and tenured professor at the San Francisco Art Institute, Mark Van Proyen (MVP) to review and compare paintings done by some of the world’s most well known leaders (and artists) like Adolf Hitler, Winston Churchill, Vladimir Putin, & General Dwight D Eisenhower. We begin with President Bush in the bathtub:
Self-portraits by George W. Bush, Oil on Canvas
Professor MVP: “Bush’s shower paintings are obsessive attempts to wash out a Macbethian spot of guilt. He is washing away his sins.” I ask him if he thinks they are any good? “They are his best paintings. His use of color is a little more adventurous,(than his portraits of dogs and dignitaries) and the compositions are more sophisticated…These people (world leaders in general) are mouthpieces of vast and complex political machines…for many of them painting is probably an escape…it’s therapeutic…An attempt to recover some sense of their own subjectivity.”
The Professor implied that Bush’s other portraits weren’t as good, so I asked him to compare Bush’s portrait of ‘Barney The Dog’ with Adolf Hitler’s Portrait of a German Shepard to see who was the better artist. A head to head match-up of doggie paintings between two of the world’s most famous leaders.
Dog portraits by George W. Bush VS. Adolf Hitler
“The one on the left (Bush) is an example of sappy calendar art, it’s a sentimental illustration in simple color.” I remind the professor that President Bush has only been painting for 2 years. “The fact that he’s an amateur does not excuse this sentimental, Thomas Kinkadian, crap.” And what about Hitler’s pooch on the right? “What is there to say? Anatomically this is just bad, the dog has no chin, the eyeball is flat (2 dimensional) and the rest of the mouth…I mean look at that tongue”. I press the professor for a decision on which dog illustration is better. “There’s no winner here,” he says continuing to shake his head.
I ask the professor what is the key to making a great self-portrait. “The Key to making a great self-portrait is having a very smart realization about how to portray two things at the same time , which is a ‘type’ of person, and a ‘specific’ person.”
What are some examples of great self-portrait artists?
“Rembrandt and Francis Bacon”
We move on to Former British Prime Minister Winston Churchill who painted throughout his life, here is his self-portrait before WWII.
Self-Portrait by Winston Churchill
Professor MVP: “Extreme light and dark, he seems to be responding to darkness and at the same time being devoured by it. What you see is less of a concern about the specifics of a person, and what it is like to be trapped between light and dark, and definition and the lack of definition…It looks to me like someone suffering from serious depression…What got him out of his depression was probably the opportunity to drop bombs on opponents…which is always invigorating.” (smiles) Your favorite painting so far? “Yes Winston Churchill is the winner so far”
Now for America’s most famous Generals turned President. General Dwight D. Eisenhower (1890-1969) Vs. General Ulysses S. Grant (1822-1885) Both great American Generals who went on to become Presidents…and painters. I asked the professor to compare their landscapes and decide which warrior was the greater artist.
Landscape by President Dwight D. Eisenhower
Professor MVP: “That’s just a generic, crappy painting of snow, everyone’s aunt tilly can paint that…it has zero depth”
Landscape by President Ulysses S. Grant
Professor MVP: “There’s light differentiation, he’s using atmospheric perspective, there’s fore ground, middle ground and background.” Your Winner: President Grant
Happy Presidents Day Everyone!