Painter Nelson Shanks, Art Fick

Shanks. (The photographer hid a tiny image of an asshole in the photo, Nelson. He knew you'd approve.)

Shanks. (The photographer hid a tiny image of an asshole in the photo, Nelson. He knew you’d approve.)

A “fick” is an individual isn’t just unethical, shamelessly unethical, or openly unethical. Fick is the Ethics Alarms term, created in honor of the horrible Leroy Fick, who is proudly and cheerfully unethical. Fick sightings are mercifully rare, but we have a true giant of the species: Philadelphia portrait artist Nelson Shanks. Shanks, who was the artist commissioned by the Clintons to paint the portrait of Bill that hangs in the National Portrait Gallery, just gave an interview to the Philadelphia Inquirer, and without a gun pointed to he head, told them this:

“Clinton was hard. I’ll tell you why. The reality is he’s probably the most famous liar of all time. He and his administration did some very good things, of course, but I could never get this Monica thing completely out of my mind and it is subtly incorporated in the painting.

If you look at the left-hand side of it there’s a mantle in the Oval Office and I put a shadow coming into the painting and it does two things. It actually literally represents a shadow from a blue dress that I had on a mannequin, that I had there while I was painting it, but not when he was there. It is also a bit of a metaphor in that it represents a shadow on the office he held, or on him.”


Bill Clinton chose Shanks for this prestigious task, paid him, patronized him, posed for him, and trusted him. And Shanks not only does this trick with the dress shadow, which is bad (making a disguised uncomplimentary reference to a career scandal in an official portrait is a betrayal of the subject whether it is discovered or not —See Rationalization #10, The Unethical Tree in the Forest, or “What they don’t know won’t hurt them.” ), but then makes his conduct public, instantly transforming the portrait from an honor into an indictment. He was not hired to paint an indictment.


He is using this now to his own advantage, gaining fame and name recognition, possibly enhancing the value of his work, definitely increasing interest in the painting itself. He knows there will be TV interviews and controversy; he knows enemies and critics of the Clintons, Republicans, and many of those–like me— who find Bill Clinton’s continued currency among Democrats, women and feminists infuriating will applaud him, defend him, and even reward him in various ways.


He knows what he did was wrong, and knows announcing it is wrong. He’s still pleased with himself.



Pointer: Tim Maher

46 thoughts on “Painter Nelson Shanks, Art Fick

  1. It was a betrayal; pure and simple. From his words, he makes it clear that he’s a political leftist himself. He just did it (again, like Clinton) because he could. Some people just get a thrill from this sort of thing. And if he did something like this to Bill Clinton, he would probably do it to anyone else… maybe even sooner.

    This guy is an all around jackass. Don’t look for many Republicans to laud this sort of thing, either. There’s just a passing amusement some get when we see the thieves backstabbing each other instead of us.

    • Well, I basically don’t care in any way, shape, or form about this. This is the kind of person Clinton was and he surrounded himself with likeminded people. When you and your friends all behave as amoral opportunists, and you give them a job like painting your portrait, you have to expect this to happen. Clinton isn’t that naïve, is he? Did he really think, just because he was king of the rats, that he was going to get some kind of professional courtesy from a rat?

        • Yes, but there comes a point where I just can’t be bothered to care anymore. It is like Lucy pulling the ball away from Charlie Brown or what happens if you give a $100 bill to a strung-out drug addict who swears they need it for a birthday present for their kid. Yes, the behavior is unethical, but so expected, that I just can’t get worked up about it.

          • I sympathize greatly. I loathe the Clintons. I guess, though, that the rules of ethics are particularly important in situations like this; where emotion, or lack thereof, can cause us to breach our ethical boundaries. I’m just as prone to this as anyone, but on second thought, I never want to be a part of any lynch mob.

  2. Are you trying to say this guy is a fick? This is like urinating in someone’s food, then bragging about it later. Hopefully, it will be derided as such by the right. Our credibility has been damaged enough lately by Fox.

  3. Anyone else read a news article that just screams for ethical commentary, come straight to this site to find out if there’s an entry and there’s one at the top of the page? That has happened to me the last couple of weeks with alarming regularity.

  4. Zero sympathy for Clinton, but I hope this guy’s planning to retire soon, because, justifiably no one is going to trust him with a commission.

    Still, how is this different than naming a sewage plant after GWB?

        • I’m speculating on the kind of personality disorder that would lead someone to make that comment and not enlighten us with how the German meaning of “fick” applies, nor explain how Leroy Fick was really a helpless victim of name determinism, and doomed to fickdom.

          • It is not a personality disorder to see images in clouds or in inkblots but rather the mind’s effort to seek out pattern where none exists. So you are not disordered to wonder those things, but nevertheless you are jumping to unwarranted conclusions about what I was telling you and what you think I should add (and being offensive about it to boot). I told you that that word was not invented by you, and that if you thought it was you cannot be familiar with German (it is a word in that language). But nowhere, not nowise, not nohow, did I ever suggest that the German meaning applied to your own usage, or that it had anything whatsoever to do with your eponymous inspiration (though I suppose it might be linked, as it was once common to give Jews derogatory surnames and that surname might be one such). Rather, what I was telling you is a simple matter of priority: anyone who genuinely thinks that he invented the word in recent times cannot be familiar with earlier cases.

            • That wooshing sound you hear is the sound of the concept of YOU’RE THE ONE WHO BROUGHT IT UP, NOW TELL US WHAT THE GERMAN WORD “FICK” MEANS ALREADY flying right over your head at super-sonic speed.


              • Since PM Lawrence doesn’t seem to be forthcoming with an answer, checked with Wikipedia. “Fick” is part of the conjugation of “ficken” and means:
                From Middle High German ficken (“to rub, solidify, strengthen”), perhaps ultimately from Proto-Indo-European *puḱn-, *pewḱ- (“to stick, sting, stab”). The interjectional use is probably a loan translation of English fuck.

                This actually took more effort than I thought it would, as the German word “fick” is apparently:

                1. imperative singular of ficken.
                2.(colloquial)First-person singular present of ficken.

            • Breaking my rule this time:

              Fick (in this case) isn’t German – Fick Surname.

              It’s usage AS a functioning word with a definition and not just a name counts as “new”.

              Jack hasn’t claimed to “invent” a new word.

              “PM Lawrencing” is about to become a less than flattering verb.

              • Not only that, wouldn’t word “invention” be contained to the language in question? Exceptions found in OTHER languages don’t negate new and unrelated usage in the language in question?

                That is to say, if we decide that pengyou is a great term for someone who totally miffed a speech, as in, Rick Perry pengyoued the word “precedent” the other night, should we then expect that not to count because in Chinese “pengyou” means “friend”?

                I mean seriously, I’m already having some great definitions come to mind for what “peeyimlawrence: (v) trans.” means.

    • For a while, I thought that a Fick was some sort of funny descriptive term, like schmendrick or dingus, but then at some point recently Jack mentioned that it was actually a complete ethics dirtbag named after a real person. That made it even funnier. I wonder if Mr. Fick knows he’s been immortalized here. I sincerely hope so.

  5. Was William Jefferson Clinton happy with that portrait? It makes HIM look like an arrogant, white guy in charge, robber baron asshole rather than the first black president. Pretty darned funny.

  6. @Steve-O-in-NJ: Regarding “joke” gifts of the sort you ask about, I would imagine, at a minimum, the Second Niggarderly Principle applies; it would be unethical to needlessly taunt someone with gifts they’d likely find distasteful. Not to mention such behavior is highly unprofessional and may even cross the line into sexual harrassment.

    • Sounds about right. The former was something one of the partners at a firm I used to work at suggested she was going to do to me, the latter, I am somewhat ashamed to admit, was something another attorney and I considered doing to a co-worker at the successor firm.

  7. It is a known fact that Bill Clinton did NOT commission Shanks to paint his portrait, someone with deep pockets paid (275,000) Shanks to paint this portrait. Shanks is a self righteous ASS. To think that Shanks has a non for profit art school, Studio Incaminati is even crazier!

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