Jerry Saltz and Karl Rove Talk About George W. Bush’s Paintings on MSNBC

by Paddy Johnson and Corinna Kirsch on March 26, 2013 · 13 comments Newswire

“I’d thought he was this gremlin on the wing of the United States,” art critic Jerry Saltz told MSNBC news anchor Alex Wagner last night. Then he saw George W. Bush’s paintings. “I actually think the Whitney Museum of American Art could give him a very small survey,” Saltz chimed. “I would write about it!”

How absurd can this story get? This reminds us of Saltz’s similar proclamation about the first season of Bravo’s short-lived reality show “Work of Art”. “I saw artists here who were better than were in the Whitney Biennial,” he told audiences in 2010. As we remarked then, given the amount of crap that’s made it into the Biennial over the years, that statement mostly served as a slight.

So why extol the virtue of an average Sunday painter? It’s easy copy and a story with better legs when Bush is assessed as having a modicum of skill. It’s not anywhere close to reality, though, so conversations like this will probably only confuse audiences more about what constitutes skilled painting.

Saltz, along with everyone else in the segment, is sold on the work. White House Deputy Chief of Staff Karl Rove tells MSNBC about one Bush original he owns, a portrait of Rove alongside his wife and their dogs. On Barney’s portrait, possibly the most famous of all Bush paintings so far, Rove described it as “clearly from the heart.” We have yet to see this come to light, but doubt the Bush-as-skilled painter story will be over until this one, and others like it, get unearthed.

“This may be George W. Bush’s greatest contribution to American society,” Alex Wagner concludes in the interview. Surely, George W. Bush’s paintings cannot change his political legacy, but art, that great equalizer, can make him seem more humane.


samthor March 26, 2013 at 11:49 am

He paints with all the grace and elegance…. of a potato.

GaryGraveTroll March 26, 2013 at 12:08 pm

I am in total agreement with your sentiments, but — to play devil’s advocate — what actually DOES constitute skilled painting? Technicality? Conceptualization?

If enough people call something great, does that thing become great?

Where is the line drawn?

David Kearns March 26, 2013 at 1:12 pm

Funny, Art Fag City regularly champions ART where the level of “skill” on display is highly questionable. Personally, I enjoy a well-made object as much as anyone, but didn’t ‘the conversation’ move beyond that question quite some time ago?
The craziest thing in this clip by far is Jerry Saltz suggesting W. was an “outsider President”….beyond the pale of absurdity.

Paddy Johnson March 26, 2013 at 3:13 pm

That’s true. I think there’s a difference of context here. The painters we’re talking about are usually trained or at least embedded participants in the art world. That’s different than George Bush, who’s taken up painting recently. He’s a new painter who does not appear to be seeking out conversation with the larger art world. I wish that at least some of that context had been mentioned in the interview.

David Kearns March 27, 2013 at 9:51 am

While Saltz does remark that W is “good at” painting the dogs, I am still missing the part where there is any specific mention of W as “skilled” painter. The hand-wringing over public confusion resultant from some irresponsible art-journalism or whatever is amusing.

Paddy Johnson March 27, 2013 at 9:56 am

“Good at” means “skilled” to most I’m sure. But whatever. It bothered me. Marina Galperina over at Animal made fun of me too for getting upset about it!

David Kearns March 27, 2013 at 10:11 am

Actually, I think Jerry was quite clear that his admiration for the work is rooted in the peculiar lens of W.’s “vision” (as opposed to any great skill: painterly, drawing, or otherwise). Most striking to me re: the latest batch of paintings is the reference to George Stubbs’ “Zebra”. Perhaps W. spent some time with the collection at The British Art Center at Yale….in his spare time, while not performing Skull and Bones rituals. New to the brush, but perhaps a true student of great animal painting? Curiously (coincidentally?), a Boston Globe writer just penned an appreciation for one of my personal favorites in the BAC collection.

Paddy Johnson March 27, 2013 at 10:21 am

He talks about W.’s vision, but that’s not the same as building a clear context for which this work is being evaluated. The word “outsider” is used once, and it’s never explained what it means.

As for what he’s discussing: Just what kind of “vision” is this? He’s painting images of himself in the shower and dogs. It’s totally generic stuff and shouldn’t be presented as though it’s Whitney quality. Jerry goes on about how he’s nude and this exposes him and blah blah blah. You don’t see anything that’s actually that revealing though.

GiovanniGF March 26, 2013 at 2:22 pm

I can’t say I’m surprised that Jerry is riding this absurdity as far as it will take him, but I was truly shocked that Roberta Smith, Peter Schjedahl, and Howard Halle (the last one just on Facebook) have all agreed that these paintings are good. Interesting I can accept (grudgingly), but good? Give me a fucking break.

GaryGraveTroll March 26, 2013 at 2:53 pm

Because ol’ GW has led an embarrassing career of ignorance, misinformation and essentially genocide, his pretty dog paintings can be called good in comparison.

Horace March 27, 2013 at 12:42 pm

Jerry’s position on the Bush paintings calls everything he has ever written into question.

David Kearns March 27, 2013 at 11:28 am

Generic? Really? Anyway, I’m not endorsing Jerry’s performance (or sentiments) but….

Paddy Johnson March 27, 2013 at 11:29 am

I suppose the shower stuff is less generic than the dogs, but yeah. Generic.

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