Love the talent but hate the person, that’s exactly how I feel about Nelson Shanks. In a world where people make art careers without even knowing how to draw accurately, he maintains the (arguably) unfashionable tradition of academic painting. Just looking at his Website, it is amazing that such a talent still lives and breathes and creates magnificent work. It is like the work of a man taken out of the Renaissance; wonderful and beautiful paintings. The man has more talent that many artists could ever hope to have.
This is why this whole business with the Bill Clinton is all the more disappointing. In an interview with the Philadelphia Daily, he reveals that he’s hidden references to Monica Lewinsky in Bill Clinton’s portrait which was destined to be hung at the National Portrait Gallery. He said that he found the former President’s lie offensive and that the affair was a shadow to the Clinton presidency. He was quoted saying that the 42nd President was “the most famous liar of all time.”
How obnoxious is that?
Now, I enjoy putting hidden messages and allusions not just in my work but also in the works I see and follow. But Shanks just put his own personal politics in what is meant to be an apolitical peace, lied about it during the process, and missed the irony throughout the whole thing. And what was so unforgivable; the former President’s extramarital affair, something which is a personal matter that his family appears to have moved beyond from? The hidden “humor” is crass, misplaced, and really should not be brought up now since everyone has already moved past it. Poor Monica Lewinsky deserves a life past her youthful indiscretions.
Regarding shadows to someone’s presidency, I think the big shadow in the Clinton presidency is their relationship with the banks and how they deregulated them. It is an overbearing cloud that still haunts the world to this day. And as for lies, I think the biggest lies are the ones that cause the most lives. George Bush and Dick Cheney got American into an unnecessary war. It cost thousands of military and civilian casualties and created a quagmire which Barrack Obama perpetuates. How’s that for a shadow over someone’s presidency?
The shadow of that dress is not that overwhelming in comparison.
A part of me thinks the whole thing is just a cry for attention. I wonder if setting up a dress to cast shadow during the painting process even truly happened. Shanks claims the Clintons have been trying to get the portrait taken down from the National Portrait Gallery, but representatives from the gallery deny this and the Clintons apparently couldn’t care less. If this was a cry for attention, it really is quite sad because the man is amazingly talented and shouldn’t need to court the raving right wing in order to get attention.
I don’t mind politics in art. I think it’s the artist’s job to tell truths in their work. And should it be in the realm of politics, then so be it. But harping at the Clintons regarding an old scandal just seems petty and ridiculous. And in the end, what message is the artist truly trying to say? I think it speaks more about the artist’s narrow minded politics than anything else.
I don’t know, maybe it’s just my progressive leanings, but I don’t think conservatives make for good messengers in art. I haven’t seen any good examples. There are some good technical artists out there; but most of the time, the work just comes off looking bizarre, hateful, hypocritical, and deeply misinformed.