Art critic thinks George W. Bush is a ‘good painter’

Holly Bailey
View photos

The U.S. Secret Service has launched a formal investigation into who is behind the hacking and publishing of personal Bush family emails. But for former President George W. Bush, there may be an upside to the embarrassing leak: At least one major art critic likes the self-portraits Bush has been painting.

Photos of three of Bush's paintings were among the items hacked, including two self-portraits of the former president—one of him peering in a mirror in the shower, the other of his knobby knees and feet in a bathtub filling with water.

Unsurprisingly, Bush’s artwork immediately became blog fodder. Gawker called the paintings “just as awkward and simple as you’d hope." BlackBook wondered if the former president depicting himself in the bathroom meant that he was “trying to wash himself clean of the long failure that was his life.” The Guardian suggested Bush’s art might generate empathy among those who also have stared at their feet in the tub while contemplating life.

But Jerry Saltz, an art critic at New York Magazine, offered a more surprising take. In a piece published on Vulture, the magazine’s culture blog, Saltz declared Bush to to be a “good painter”—an assessment that even he seemed surprised by.

“OMG! Pigs fly. I like something about George W. Bush. A lot,” Saltz wrote.

Saltz’s critique wasn't entirely glowing. He offered some backhanded compliments about the president’s skills, such as this one: He is "someone doing the best he can with almost no natural gifts, except the desire to do this.”

But Saltz also raves about Bush’s art, declaring that he “loves the bather portraits”:

"The reclusion and seclusiveness of the pictures evoke the quietude (though not the insight, quality, or genius) of certain Chardin still lifes. These are pictures of someone dissembling without knowing it, unprotected and on display, but split between the promptings of his own inner drives and limited by his abilities. They reflect the pleasures of disinterestedness. A floater. Inert. The images of a man who saw the entire world from the inside but who finds the smallest, most private place in a private home to imagine his universe. Of almost nothingness. Sweet, sublime, oblique oblivion. The visibility of invisibleness.

Concluding, Saltz urges Bush to “paint more. Please.” And he suggests that the Whitney Museum of American Art “get on the stick and offer this American a show.”

Saltz says he's not kidding. In an email to Yahoo News, the critic says he is "totally serious" about liking Bush's work and suggests a show would be huge.

"I can really imagine viewers at Whitney stopping to look at these paintings and being thrown for real loops of existential anxiety and wonder," Saltz tells Yahoo News. "These are the works of a man who came this close to all but burning down our great country. Who wouldn't be interested?"