Let George W. Bush unleash his inner artist

What are the first words you think of when you hear the name George W. Bush? Some might go for the categorical terms and say “president” or “Republican.” Others would head straight to political diction and say “tax cuts,” “war on terror” or “controversial election.” But did you ever think people would say “painter” when referring to the forty-third president of the United States?

On Saturday, April 6, George W. Bush decided to show the U.S. that he could paint more than just fluffy puppy dogs. If you don’t know what I am talking about, quickly pull out your phone or computer and Google Image search “George Bush paints dogs.” Get ready to have a good chuckle.

In Dallas, Texas, George W. Bush’s exhibit, entitled “The Art of Leadership: A President’s Personal Diplomacy,” opened to the public and created quite a stir. The exhibit features portraits of a variety of world leaders. Just to name a few, George W. Bush depicted Vladimir Putin, Mohammed bin Zayed, the crown prince of Abu Dhabi, Václav Havel the former president of the Czech Republic, the Dalai Lama himself and his father.

The exhibit features an introductory video explaining a little about why Bush decided to paint – he was inspired by Winston Churchill – and why these particular world leaders made the cut.

Bush says, “I spent a lot of time on personal diplomacy, and I befriended leaders and learned about their families and their likes and dislikes, to the point where I felt comfortable painting them.”

If you think the facial expressions selected for each leader are related to whether or not he worked well with them, you would be correct. For example, Bush and Putin recently quarreled over the size and ferocity of their dogs, with Putin claiming that his is “bigger, stronger and faster” than Bush’s. Bush says comments like that did factor into how he viewed Putin and helped give his portrait very intimidating eyes.

Bush states that painting his father was a very emotional experience. He says, “I watched him very carefully through his presidency. I always admired him as a man. It was a joyful experience to paint him. I painted a gentle soul.” This explains why the son painted a smile on his father’s face.

While the media is enjoying this display of what they call ‘a softer side of Bush,’ others have some more controversial takes on Bush’s new hobby. One Texas man, after seeing the exhibit, said, “Perhaps he should have tried this before he tried politics.” One could call this comment a little harsh when speaking about a former president, and I personally find all the fuss the media is creating over these paintings quite odd. If former President Bush wants to paint world leaders to freshen up the Bush Center and ramp up tourism, I say kudos to him. None of the world leaders are being harmed by the Bush Center having a painting of them on display. If I painted a picture of the Dalai Lama and had a gallery create an exhibit of my art, no one would tell me that I didn’t have the right to display my hobby.

People who think it is inappropriate for Bush to show his art are too connected with Bush as a former president instead of looking at him as Bush the man who has a hobby that he is proud of. To be completely honest, I am not crazy about Bush’s politics. I oppose the six trillion dollar wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, but if a sixty-seven-year-old man wants to paint dogs and world leaders for the Bush Center, I say keep calm and carry on.

Jocelyn Sarvady ’15 sarvady@stolaf.edu is from Atlanta, Ga. She majors in American studies.