The Art of an Iraqi War Criminal

Paul Bremer - Nude with Matisse ColorsI caught a bit of The Rachel Maddow Show tonight as I made dinner. During one bit, she mentioned that since leading Iraq into ever more chaos for the Bush administration, L. Paul Bremer is now painting. She showed the painting on the left and I thought, “That looks really interesting.”

So I went to his site (which is shockingly badly designed). I was wrong. This one painting is by far the most interesting of the 50+ paintings on his site. And it is not nearly as interesting as I first thought.

Don’t get me wrong: the man has talent. He is like the many other good artists I appreciate when I visit the Sonoma Country Fair every year. But it is clearly “talented amateur” work.

A Test!

Which of the following paintings is by L. Paul Bremer and which is by Edward Hopper?

Mystery Bridge Painting Number 1 - Bremer or Hopper
Mystery Bridge Painting Number 2 - Bremer or Hopper

Right On!

I’m glad Bremer is pursuing his art. Why shouldn’t he be? He is very wealthy, so I wonder why he didn’t do it sooner. But if it isn’t time now, when he is 70 years old, when is it time? The truth is that most people confuse me. They waste their lives doing things they don’t like, even when they don’t have to. So the question is not why Bremer is pursuing his art; it is why he waited so long (he’s always been wealthy). Grandma Moses he’s not, but what does that matter?

0 thoughts on “The Art of an Iraqi War Criminal

  1. That’s quite a challenging test – if the reader is uniformed and colorblind. Comparing Bremer to Hopper really is unfair. (Compare his paintings to mine and it might be a draw.) If Bremer tried to sell his simple painting of a bridge at the Sonoma County Fair, I know that some corn dog-eating troglodyte would walk by and say, "My kid could have painted that". Sadly, another passer-by could say, rightfully, "My kid could have painted like that if he hadn’t been killed in your war."

  2. @Andrea – Wow! That was good. Have you ever considered blogging? :)

    I’m interested in what makes the Hopper painting so much better. The most obvious is his use of perspective. With Bremer I wonder why he chose to paint this–it just isn’t very interesting. But other than that, I can’t say why the Hopper is better, even though it screams at me.

    He calls the other painting, "Nude with Matisse Colors." I think Matisse used much brighter colors. The colors Bremer uses are more what people *think* Mattise used. Also, the one thing Bremer doesn’t have that both Mattise and Hopper had in abundance is clear lines. All of his work seems like he views the world through a fog filter. It would be nice to think this was his style, but even painters I think of as kind of foggy like Morisot and Monet have clear and interesting lines.

  3. @Andrea, oh, snap! haha, that was a terrific ‘tag’ at the end of your comment. . .sincerely, I liked that.

    @Frank, I think what Bremer lacks is ‘confidence’? That’s something Hopper, Matisse, Monet and Morisot all had in abundance while painting and it shows in their work. I think it’s what the difference is between Bremer’s work (which isn’t actually ‘bad’-as you point out) and a ‘professional artist’, it’s lacking in a confidence of craftsmanship, which is often the case in ‘amateur painting’. It’s also why you find the ‘foggy’ look of Morisot and Monet still more ‘clear’ in line than Bremer. To me, it’s also what’s ‘screaming out’ from Hopper’s painting.

  4. @karl – Hmm… I tend to disagree. Go back and watch "F for Fake." In it, Elmyr de Hory says, "Matisse’s lines were never as sure as mine." I think I know what you’re talking about. Great painters exude confidence. But I think this is the confidence of vision, not necessarily the confidence of technique.

    Having had a lot of time to think about it, I would say the biggest thing that jumps out is composition. If these two paintings were photos (very likely), the Hopper photo would be far better. The angles are sharper and more interesting, the perspective is far more intense. This makes me think that Bremer just doesn’t have much of an eye. And I say this as someone who doesn’t have much of an eye. But its not ghastly, and had Bremer not wasted his life making money and destroying other countries, he might have developed into a solid artist.

    He may indeed lack confidence, but I think it more likely he has too much confidence. Lack of confidence leads to me: a man who writes whole novels he won’t let anyone read. Too much confidence leads to him: selling any old thing online for far more than an artist of his level could ask if he weren’t already a famous guy.

  5. @frank, I don’t think I explained myself properly. You’re thinking of ‘confidence’ as in ‘personal confidence’, but I AM speaking of a painters (or artist/writer, etc.) ‘confidence of vision’-what you stated. However, I believe a ‘confidence in vision’ comes from trial and error, a lot of practice (with your craft) and my point was that it develops into a ‘confidence of craft’. At least in my opinion. So what I meant was: those years of practice, painting and surrounding themselves in art, leads to the confidence of which I was speaking. At which point they can simply create. And Elmyr de Hory? That guy IS confidence, he probably DID have more than Matisse himself? (I can’t express enough how much I love that film, seen it SO many times!) But, to me, ‘sureness of line’ doesn’t always indicate what I was speaking of. Robert Crumb’s line is almost always ‘sketchy, squiggly and scratchy’ (certainly not what I’d call: ‘sureness of line’) yet his work exudes (to me) an abundance of confidence in craft. He knows he’s talented, he’s drawn his ass off to the point that he’s sure of his draftsmanship, which translates to a certain ‘confidence’. . .perhaps I stated it improperly? But I meant, the kind of confidence that comes from diligent work on your art, where the ‘craft’ becomes second nature and you become sure of your work. I think you’re driving at the same thing, I just wanted to make it clear, I wasn’t talking about the confidence that some people (like Bremer) have, but instead the kind of confidence which comes from knowing: you know your craft and are confidence in your vision-as you state the ‘artists eye’. Personally, I think you can develop that ‘eye’, and honestly I don’t think your ‘eye’ is as bad as you may think it is? Just from the observation of what you’ve said on art and what you’ve said on film-I think you’re selling yourself short? Indeed, I also think if Bremer had not ‘wasted his life’ earning an abundance of money and ‘conquering’ countries, but instead took up painting, he very well may have developed into a pretty talented artist?

    Lastly, you probably have confidence in your craft of writing? You may just lack a bit of self confidence, something people like Bremer never lack and unfortunately, people like him wind up getting credit over more talented people who lack a little self confidence. I often think of the talented artists who’s work will never be seen because of this fact. Your novels are probably terrific? Just get ’em out there (I’m one to talk, I pull the same kind of shit you do as regards my ‘art’). I bet its good work, I mean come on, you’re clearly a smart, talented guy. And I know too many people who ‘got somewhere’ simply because they had the gumption and ‘schmoozing talent’ and yet completely lack talent. These schmucks actually get further than more talented people and that pisses me off. It’s why I think you should send your work out!

    I hope that was all clear? I’m a little inebriated at the moment.

  6. @karl – That sounds reasonable. One thing about Elmyr is that he knows Matisse. He is just faking it. Matisse (one would hope) was trying to do something different each time he painted. Elmyr was just trying to make something look like Matisse. It is interesting to consider whether Elmyr was less confident when doing his own style.

    Thanks for all the nice things you’ve said. The problem is that any story is perfect in your mind, but with every step you take in rendering it, it becomes less perfect. Part of the problem is that I’ve been writing genre fiction (sort of). But I don’t want it to be just any genre work; I want it to be The Third Man. I’ve been thinking about doing something more personal and autobiographical like my version of A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man (many people seem to think that my "colorful" life would be good reading). I think it might be easier to send something like that out because it would be explicitly personal. In my fiction, I spend a lot of time removing personal aspects that pollute the narrative. This is kind of hard with the most recent novel, because it is written first person and is very personal–it’s just not me. And that’s hard to keep straight.

    Non-fiction is easier. But I keep pushing myself. I’m very close to sending some short stories out. But it is hard.

  7. @frank: Yeah, I think Elmyr was VERY self conscious and NOT confident when it came to his own work? In fact, I’d bet it’s one of the contributing factors that led to him being the talented ‘forger’ that he was?

    Ya know, I wasn’t blowing smoke, not that I got the impression you thought I was, I just want you to know I was sincere in my compliments (if I really didn’t believe it, I wouldn’t bother saying anything). But, you must know, your a very bright, intelligent guy and clearly have a talent for writing-it seems pretty very apparent to me.

    Trust me, I completely understand what you’re talking about regarding ‘the art proess’. I have gone through the exact same ‘deterioration process’ of an ‘original ideal’ when making films and it always started with the ‘perfect idea’ which quickly deteriorated when I wrote the script, then further decayed from the ‘ideal’ when the ‘script’ was physically filmed-then it’s almost demoralizing when watching the ‘rushes’ play, oddly enough the ‘ideal’ is slightly revived while editing and piecing the film together. But still, one ends up with a pale version of the original ‘ideal’. I undergo a similar thing when writing. The only place where I really don’t get that sensation is when I draw and create illustrations; but it does happen when I try to paint. So, I fully understand. I know how hard it is to actually ‘expose’ oneself by revealing your honest and genuine creation. I fight that battle every day.

    I agree, though I haven’t written much ‘non-fiction’, that submitting something that’s ‘non-fiction’ would probably be easier to do than writing you put a lot of creativity and imagination into? But definitely, let me know if/when you submit anything and what transpires with it, I’d be curious to know. I really think you’ll make an excellent author, seriously. . .or better still, sincerely (the ‘Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man’ idea sounds very intriguing to me; ya gotta give that a go).

    Lastly, I understand what you’re talking about with your ‘latest novel’. . .oddly, the novel I just wrote is very much the way you describe your most recent one. Mine is also first person narrative (yet a female no less, which makes it even harder), and it has been REALLY hard to ‘keep straight’. I’ve been parring it back, re-writing and now have five different drafts, most of which I’m still chipping away at. It’s a very difficult process.

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