The legacy of Barack Obama is already on thin ice.
His signature big-government program, Obamacare, is widely despised and plagued with problems. Other Obama-era regulations are being rolled back by his successor with impressive speed, and the 44th president is also connected to a growing scandal that could tarnish whatever reputation he had left.
Now, you can add another nail in the coffin of the Obama legacy: Artwork. More specifically, the official portraits of Barack and Michelle Obama, which were revealed on Monday to widespread criticism and disbelief.
The reason for the negative reaction? We’ll just say that the portrait choices are a bit… odd.
“Let’s just start by saying, ‘Wow,’ again. Let me just take a minute. It’s amazing. Wow,” Michelle Obama declared after her portrait was unveiled, according to The Daily Caller.
“Wow” is one way to put it. Other appropriate responses might be “What?” and “Who is that supposed to be, exactly?”
“MISSING: Michelle Obama in this apparent portrait of Michelle Obama,” quipped Olly Gibbs, an award-winning print designer whose work has appeared in Empire Magazine.
“Michelle Obama is an elegant lady and the portrait looks nice. But clearly, the artist drew someone else,” agreed Dr. Eugene Gu, who writes for The Hill.
Michelle Obama is an elegant lady and the portrait looks nice. But clearly, the artist drew someone else. pic.twitter.com/659jRDHY33
— Eugene Gu, MD (@eugenegu) February 12, 2018
Other Twitter users similarly panned the bizarre portrait.
“I do not like this painting,” liberal author Michael Grant bluntly posted. “Michelle Obama is a vibrant, powerful person, an indelible person, and this portrait conveys none of that.”
Conservatives might quibble about calling Michelle Obama “indelible,” but Grant’s point is not wrong. The portrait appears unfinished and amateurish, and barely resembles the former first lady by any objective measure.
The painting of Barack Obama was equally puzzling. The quality is noticeably better, but bizarre choices made the portrait distracting.
In his artwork, the 44th president is portrayed sitting in, er, a field of weeds.
Paintings Of Barack And Michelle Obama Unveiled At Portrait Gallery https://t.co/UuBfbin18G
— NPR (@NPR) February 12, 2018
At least that’s the way it looks. “The different flowers woven into the greenery include the chyrsanthemum, the official flower of Chicago, and jasmine for Hawaii, there’s even some African blue lilies, symbolic of Obama’s heritage,” CNN valiantly tried to explain about the head-scratching portrait choice.
Obama’s painted likeness also seemed to have cartoon-like, elongated hands, although unlike the Michelle portrait, his face at least looked like the same person.
A recurring theme of Obama’s time in the White House was a remarkably non-colorblind view of individuals, and a focus on race above all else while dealing with national issues.
That “social justice” approach of seeing skin color as crucial instead of irrelevant was a major factor in Barack and Michelle Obama’s selection of artists for their paintings.
President and Mrs. Obama apparently went out of their way to choose black painters who have ties to the social justice movement, proving that the 44th president couldn’t even set aside racial politics when it came to art.
“The former president chose Kehinde Wiley, a Yale University-trained painter famous for his depiction of African-Americans posed in the style of Old Master paintings,” reported CNN.
One of Wiley’s previous paintings depicts a black woman proudly holding the decapitated head of a white person, purposely injecting race into the biblical-era story of Holofernes and Judith.
“For her portrait, Michelle Obama chose Baltimore-based artist Amy Sherald,” continued CNN. “Sherald is another African-American artist known for her unique style, and her portraits also tend to underscore themes of social justice.”
Apparently, appointing people to jobs based on their race is bigoted most of the time, but suddenly completely fine when the Obamas do it.
To be clear, the artist choices were of course their decisions to make, but it seems odd that the double standard of race-based hiring is being actively celebrated in this case — especially since skin color and politics appears to have been higher on the list of considerations than painting ability.
In the end, these strange portraits will no doubt leave future viewers wondering, “What in the world were they thinking?” Perhaps that’s appropriate. After all, that’s exactly what much of America is wondering about Obama’s time in office.
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