In case you missed it, it was recently revealed that since leaving the White House, George W. Bush has become a painter. Well, painter might be a strong word. He’s a guy who paints stuff. Dogs usually. Sometimes himself getting out of the shower. Occasionally a piece of fruit. The paintings are quite, well, bad. Not Response to Hurricane Katrina bad, but bad nonetheless. Art critics called the paintings “naive,” “clumsy,” and in my all-time favorite line of artistic criticism “what [they] immediately [call] to mind is Hitler’s paintings.” It’s never good to be compared to Hitler, with or without a paintbrush.
It seems wrong to put the President’s work in front of art critics however, as he is clearly an amateur. W enjoys painting as a hobby, and it’s kinda unfair to evaluate him as a professional. That would be like Magic Johnson watching me play pickup basketball and saying “Wow he’s bad. Are you sure he isn’t blind?” A fair summation, but a little severe. (At least he didn’t compare me to Hitler.) So to even the playing field, I’m going to compare George Bush to someone more on his level. Another amateur who approaches painting with similar wonder, delight, and a still developing technique. That person is my 7 year-old nephew Max. So let’s see now who is a better artist, George Bush or a child?
1. A Study in Watermelon
The first of Bush’s paintings we’ll examine, you can see this is a watermelon sitting atop a white table that has been made by a carpenter with, let’s say, a creative take on right angles. It is straightforward in its portrayal and use of color, and while not terribly expressive, is plainly a watermelon. Now let’s compare it to the work of our 7 year-old, Max Abatte.
Using a technique he calls “Pour The Water Everywhere,” Max raised a plastic sippy cup of water and splashed it all over his watercolor palette. He then mixed the colors together to create new shades previously unseen. It is, in a word, revolutionary. In more words, it’s also messy as hell. While the President was confined by the reality of the fruit before him, Max stepped outside the lines of what we commonly know as “watermelon” and showed us a darker, more grim depiction of produce. On the left is the melon itself, on the right, a slice of the juicy, luscious orb. Is it unrealistic to depict the slice as twice the length of the melon from which it was cut? Perhaps, if your mind is constrained by traditional form and space. The blurring of the fruit flesh is a result of saturation from the Water Pour technique, but also a statement on the current hype and misinformation associated with the organic food movement. Also, Max had recently eaten a bunch of jelly beans, so he was kinda jacked up.
Verdict: While my nephew’s work is certainly more emotional, President Bush must be celebrated for his mastery of dimension, color, and the weird lumpy melon shadow that he probably worked really hard on.
WINNER: President Bush
2. Dog Eat Dog World
The canine is clearly President Bush’s favorite subject, one that he explores several times throughout his oeuvre. My favorite example is this, which I’ve titled Dogs in Space.
See how the Corgi seems to almost be floating on a different plane from the Labrador, bouncing up against the brown curvy thing that is probably supposed to be a wall? Daring use of space, or unwillingness to use a ruler? Also note the large right ear of the chocolate Lab, so comically over-sized that surely the artist was trying to make a point. Perhaps, “I hear what you’re saying about me, but the recession wasn’t all my fault. Cheney did most of that crap.” Or maybe, “This dog’s ear makes it look like his head has diarrhea.” One of the two.
Here’s Max’s answer:
Breathtaking. The dog looks wearily down at the grass below him, unsure if he should hug it for warmth, or collapse upon it in defeat. His face is left a mystery, but we can still feel his anguish, his inescapable ennui. It’s like The Scream, but with doggies. In a way, Max’s painting is the perfect commentary on the Bush era, as the dog’s posture suggests the slumped depression we all felt during the Iraq War, as well as that time he almost died eating a pretzel. Max, incidentally, loves pretzels. Mostly for the salt.
The only problem is, when Max created this painting he actually had it turned like this:
I think the green part was supposed to be his tail. But sometimes even great artists don’t know how the inspiration has struck them, so I’m giving him credit for doing two paintings at once. Eat your heart out, double-sided Kandinsky.
WINNER: Max Abatte, Age 7
3. Cat Battle Showdown
In an effort to prove himself once and for all a uniter and not a divider, President Bush also drew a painting of a cat.
Not his best work. The cat seems to be sitting in a planter, which anyone who has ever owned a cat or a planter or pretty much anything knows isn’t gonna happen. And I’m not sure what’s going on with his nose, but it looks clothespin attacking the middle of a Peep.
Here is my nephew Max’s entry:
Again the motif of the green tail returns, and in the limbs and head we can see further exploration of the Poor Water Everywhere technique. However, as this was Max’s final work (it was time for bath), it is clearly the most refined. The burst of red in the cat’s stripes exhibits passion, and the limits of mortality. Where is this cat going, and where has it come from? We don’t know, but wherever it is, his pain will travel with him. Especially if he’s planning on sitting in a planter. Once again, I’m afraid President Bush’s detached perspective and emotionless take has put him behind our 7 year-old, perhaps not in precision, but certainly in artistry. Plus, come on, he’s my nephew and cute as hell, how am I not gonna pick him?
WINNER AND CHAMPION OF PAINT: Max Abatte, Age 7!
I’m sorry, Mr. President, but that doesn’t mean you can’t be proud of your work.