U.K. Newspaper Art Critic Decries That 'Monster' Dubya's Paintings: 'The Art of Forrest Gump'

The new art exhibit of paintings by George W. Bush has drawn some positive ex-president publicity from the national media (like NBC letting his daughter Jenna interview him). But someone on the Left had to sound like the Guardian (U.K.), whose art critic Jonathan Jones called it “the art of Forrest Gump.” Once again, the Harvard MBA is mentally challenged.

“That gentle, civilised art can wipe away a surprising quantity of blood,” Jones wrote, before disparaging America in general:

Americans do tend to be forgiving of their more controversial presidents. This generosity is surely born of national self-regard. If you see the presidency as peopled by monsters how can you love your country? So like Nixon before him, Dubya is getting reassessed, or at least repackaged, his martial presidency forgotten in America's cosy reception of his cute paintings, unveiled in a television interview with his own daughter.

His portrait of Putin actually looks like something you would find in one of America's trash-rich Salvation Army stores and buy to laugh at. It's got a classic amateur clumsiness and oddity to it. Bush has attempted to render shadow and shape in stylish blocks of fawn and woodchip and cookies 'n cream, but they don't sit right and the whole head looks mildly crazed. Perhaps this mad look is what is meant by revealing Putin's "soul", but it seems inept rather than insightful.

It looks as if Bush's art coach has showed him paintings by no less a model that the great pop portraitist Alex Katz, whose semi-abstract, wide-eyed style and flat backgrounds his hamfisted daubs vainly echo. But the results lack coherence or vitality. This is the art of Forrest Gump.

Idiocy in art has its charms. In the man who ran the free world into bloodstained buffers, those charms quickly sour. These empty headed daubs look the work of someone you wouldn't trust to mow a lawn without cutting someone's foot off.


This is the same Jonathan Jones that compared the passing of Hugo Chavez to the death of Christ in imagery in an article headlined "Venezuela's tears for a Christ-like Chavez" :

This picture is a modern lamentation scene. In religious paintings of the Lamentation of Christ by such masters of dignified emotion as Giotto and Poussin, the dead body of Christ has been taken down from the cross to be mourned by heartbroken women. Here, the corpse of Hugo Chávez inspires similarly emotional gestures and expressions in two women who have queued to see him in his open coffin.

If it seems pretentious to equate this tearful scene at the lying-in-state of Venezuela's late president with paintings like Raphael's Deposition – another harrowing depiction of the dead Christ mourned by his followers – then you probably live in a Protestant country. Venezuela has been deeply influenced by Catholicism since missionaries were sent to the coastline named "Little Venice" in the Renaissance

Consciously or not, the people in this picture, the photographer who took it, and even those who have decided that Chávez should lie in state "eternally", are all influenced by the rich visual heritage of the Catholic world that ranges from oil paintings to prayer cards, and feasts perpetually on images of martyrdom and mourning....

Just as the artist Frida Kahlo was able to mythologise herself as a suffering icon, so Chávez can now become a Christ or a saint to be mourned by the people forever – perhaps as intensely he is in this picture. Is that a disaster for democracy in Venezuela? Will the man who won four elections for socialism now impose his views on the future by deathly diktat?

It may rather be that he is a monumental figure who is never going to be forgotten in the history of the Americas. In the end, the women in this picture simply look like they have lost someone they love.

It reminds me of the Los Angeles Times art critic who talked up Che Guevara as "Chesucristo."

Oh, wait! The Guardian double-dipped in their hatred of the Bush exhibit! Here's art critic Jason Farago:

One imagines that the excitement over Bush’s paintings forms part of a desperate national hunger for expiation from the unforgivable crime of his presidency, as if translating Bush into a sweet retiree at his easel will erase the illegal war, the obscene economic policy, the environmental spoliation, the executive power grab, the drowning of New Orleans. It is not to be. Bush’s little paintings will be forgotten, churned like a million other images through an unceasing news cycle and replaced tomorrow by a pop star’s accidental nudity or the 17 cutest animal pictures of all time. The Bush presidency, by contrast, endures all around us – and as we feel our way through the collapsing plutocracy he has bequeathed to us, we will need more than these wan portraits to ease the pain.

Tim Graham
Tim Graham
Tim Graham is Executive Editor of NewsBusters and is the Media Research Center’s Director of Media Analysis