Jerry Saltz Is an Asshole

Bush Self-PortraitI have a great fondness for serious art criticism. But I don’t think you get it by reading newspapers or magazines. What’s more, I tend to think that criticism takes time. You need to live with a piece of art for a long time. Otherwise, it is too easy to let your emotions distract you with flashy touches on a dull core.

I bring this up because I’m tired of hearing about George W. Bush’s paintings. There is a terrible tendency to look at this work and conclude that Bush is looking back on his presidency and telling us something. He isn’t. He is not a reflective man. He wasn’t at Yale, he wasn’t in the White House, and he isn’t in his new “weight room” studio. Just look at what he’s done now: a church, a dog, and two creepy self-portraits. The church and the dog are understandable: that’s who he is. The self-portraits I suspect represent the fact that he bought too much yellow and white paint and was looking for a way to get rid of it.

But I could deal with all the people stupidly hoping that Bush might reflect on his catastrophic legacy. I hope the same thing. What is far worst are the critics who have praised his work. The most prominent of these is Jerry Saltz, although there have been others. This is what he says of the painting at the top of this article:

The other picture is the strangest, and the strongest. From over his shoulder, we see Bush looking at himself in the bathtub. This means we’ve seen two images of him cleansing himself, in warm water. It’s already enough to set you off on fantasies of aloofness, aloneness, exile, and hiding.

Again with the psychologizing. And this from a big time art critic. Note that nothing is said about the technique. Could there be a reason for that?

I’m not an art critic. I think I have a decent eye, I’m open minded, and I have a good idea of what I know and don’t know. And what I can tell is that Bush’s art is not just amateur, it is bad amateur. This isn’t to say that he isn’t doing great for having painted for such a short period of time. And it isn’t to say that he won’t turn into a fine painter. But right now, his work really shouldn’t be shown outside the family. And art critics certainly shouldn’t be applauding such weak work.

Look: there are a lot of really great artists who have trouble getting any traction for their work. These are people who are far better than Bush will ever be. They would love it if someone like Jerry Saltz paid half the attention to their work that he has to Bush’s. And they need the attention. Bush does not. Bush will soon have his own one-man show, I’m sure. Why? Because he’s rich and well connected. No one will care that he paints very much like the beginning artist he is. And that’s fine. Let the rich fools have him.

But there is another even more important issue. Art critics trivialize what they do when they hold up subpar art as though it is good. It makes it look like the critics are just making things up. And sadly, that’s probably the case.

0 thoughts on “Jerry Saltz Is an Asshole

  1. I’m not an art critic either, although I have been a dealer and I do know critics and professors and such. I’d be afraid to ask what they thought because that would be an admission that I’d looked at this slop and actually wondered if it might mean something or have value.

    I will admit however, looking at the Kommander Guy in the shower, I immediately thought of Lady MacBeth trying to wash off the damned spot.

  2. @Capt. Fogg – Good point. Although in Bush’s case, I’m afraid that a shower is just a shower. Bush doesn’t do metaphor!

  3. True and you can’t wash off stupid. For what it’s worth Hitler was a better painter, and Eisenhower as well. You can’t tell much about either by looking at the paintings.

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