Poll: “Unafraid and Unashamed”

Artist Julian Raven (that’s him on the right above) wants to force the Smithsonian Institution’s National Portrait Gallery to include his “Unafraid and Unashamed,” which you can see above. On the artist’s website  can be found links to his Supreme Court petition and  other documents related to his Free Speech suit “to force the gallery to add a portrait of President Trump to its collection of images of people of remarkable character and achievement.” Raven notes that the gallery has displayed artwork from Barack Obama’s 2008 presidential campaign since 2009, and in his 39-page filing with SCOTUS, argues that gallery’s refusal to hang his portrait is based on an anti-Trump bias.

Raven’s crusade has been treated as an oddball saga and a joke, as in a  profile in the Washingtonian Magazine.

Some conservative writers are taking his cause seriously, however. Here’s Lawrence Jarvik:

Raven’s challenge dramatizes how national cultural institutions established to serve all the American people, such as the Smithsonian, have been hijacked by dangerously partisan factions which seek to exclude, marginalize and erase  “Others.”

As his brief demonstrates, the Smithsonian had accepted campaign posters for Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton, in addition to huge oversized paintings of Bill Clinton, Barack and Michelle Obama. It had a special exhibition for the Obama Inauguration, and maintains a sort of shrine to the Obamas to this day. 

Raven’s case likewise provides evidence that decision-making at the Smithsonian is arbitrary and unfair. He was never provided a written decision on his application. Instead, he received only a phone call from the director, which from his account sounded conclusory, partisan, and unfair.

As he points out, as an American citizen—Raven is entitled to due process. Yet, to this date, he has no idea as to how his work was evaluated, nor what rubric was applied to his submission…versus that used for pictures of Obamas or Clintons.

Although “Unafraid and Unashamed” may not be the most beautiful portrait ever painted, Raven’s legal brief makes clear that the official criterion for display by the National Portrait Gallery is historical significance. No reasonable person could deny that Donald Trump’s election in 2016 had historical significance.

That’s true. It is also likely, certain, even, that the selection criteria used at the Smithsonian, as in every other art museum, is subjective and thus certain to be biased in one respect or another. Since the question involves pro-Trump art, and it would be hard to find an artist or significant arbiter of the arts in Washington, D.C. or anywhere else who doesn’t loathe President Trump, the issue of bias is not an insignificant one.

However, Raven, who is a recent immigrant, is wrong when he says he has a right to “due process” regarding the selection or rejection of his painting for the Portrait Gallery. He would also have a much stronger case if his painting didn’t—how can I put this delicately?—-didn’t, you know, stink. Obama’s “Hope and Change” poster art was a very visible part of his 2008 campaign. “Unafraid and Unashamed” was not in evidence during the Trump campaign, thank God. Even though Raven might be correct about bias, there is no right to have one’s painting in the National Portrait Gallery.

Now, some might argue that Raven’s portrait of Trump is not much more awful than Obama’s White House “President Being Stalked By A Hedge” portrait…remember this?

Nonetheless, that’s a #22 Rationalization: “It’s not the worst thing.”

I’m pretty sure how this will come out, but I’m still curious. Here’s a poll:

29 thoughts on “Poll: “Unafraid and Unashamed”

  1. I love the irony of an immigrant being this enthused about Mr Trump. While I’m not wild about it, there are many paintings already in the Smithsonian that I think are dreck, that’s just the way art is. Now is the Smithsonian had been on the ball and acquired a painting already, like other presidents by this point, his accusation of bias would not carry any weight. And there really is no excuse after three years. Even if they could have undone the election, like some video game a brat can’t accept they lost a combat, he’s still gonna be an ex-President, a very select club.

    This painting may not show the best technique, but that isn’t a requirement. It does show elements important to the President and people who supported him. I don’t think a museum should be forced to use a particular piece by the artist, but they SHOULD HAVE displayed something before now. They should put a decent portrait up, or use one made by someone who respects and wants to honor him. (why does my mind persist in making choosing a portrait a reality show contest… contestants have to do activites supporting the bill of rights or explain why harrassing teens on a trip is cruelty and worse than microaggressions and wolf whistles)

  2. Having a so-called “transparent” selection process is untenable. There are thousands of good artists and tens of thousands of mediocre artists, and hundreds of thousands of terrible artists (and countless millions of amateurs).

    There is no feasible way for the Smithsonian to objectively evaluate and provide feedback on all potential submissions, and it would be unethical to claim to. That this artist got a personal call from the director is more than most will ever get (or reasonably expect to get).

  3. I’m no art expert, but I do think one could reasonably argue that a patriotic portrait of a President is better than a portrait of a President being sucked into a hedge.

  4. Art is subjective. Some Trump stuff must be included at some point, or there will be a very righteous level of outrage. However, what, and how much, gets included is going to be left up to the Smithsonian.

    Transparency would be nice, but it’s a fantasy. If they included something like Raven’s work, the outrage on the left would be overwhelming, and the Smithsonian employees responsible would be shunned from the right DC cocktail parties and dinners. Can’t have that.

    So as long as they manage the appearance of “arguable” fairness to Trump, that’s what we’re going to have to live with. Like it or not, we as a country pay these people to make these decisions. Replacing them with someone less biased will be a decades-long process, and I suggest that’s really the only option.

  5. “If they included something like Raven’s work, the outrage on the left would be overwhelming, and the Smithsonian employees responsible would be shunned from the right DC cocktail parties and dinners.”

    That, and you’d get crowds of idiots every fall yelling “de-xxxxxxx this place!” just like the Met and the AMNH have to put up with every year in NYC.

  6. Let’s see, how do we look at this?

    Elite coastal snobs acting like spoiled brats when they did not get their way? check

    Progressives knowing better than those they should be ruling by now? check

    Unequal treatment of a President the Left loathes? check

    A Trump supporter using the playbook the Left has used for the past 50 years (misuse of the courts)? check

    Mainstream Liberal Media belittling and ridiculing an opponent for political reasons? check

    White male being dismissed out of hand? check

    Yet one more thing that will get Trump reelected in 2020? check

    res ipsa loquitur

  7. Let’s face facts oil or acrylics on canvas is symbolic of the patriarchy of the art world. Based on the colors and style this work was rejected because it was not painted on velvet or airbrushed on the side of an Dodge van. These techniques are more reflective of a diverse and inclusive community of immigrant artists.

      • Dunno where you live, but our illustrious Mayor and Houston City Council have declared the railroad bridge over I-10 near 45 North out of downtown to be a Houston landmark. Yep, our city planners took time to have a graffiti stained bridge declared a city landmark. That is, until someone thought about being someone and painted over it. Damn luck that.


  8. “However, Raven, who is a recent immigrant, is wrong when he says he has a right to “due process” regarding the selection or rejection of his painting for the Portrait Gallery.”

    Hrm… I feel like this should probably be expanded on for most people, since the idea of due process and what it means is so often misunderstood. I’m assuming that your point, Jack, was that the due process clauses of the constitution only relate to government takings from an individual, and that not including the painting is not a taking in any way?

    Anyways, I do think it would be somewhat ridiculous if the Smithsonian and NPG lacked any form of acquisitions policy at all. So I did some digging, and found the Smithsonian’s general collection policy ( https://www.si.edu/content/pdf/about/sd/SD600andAppendix.pdf ). Which does say that each collecting unit (which the NPG should be one of), is responsible for maintaining a policy on their collections and how decisions are made about what to add and when. While I can find online versions for many of the various Smithsonian collection units, the national portrait gallery is proving elusive. I’ve found a 2005 report from the Office of Policy and Analysis, which is somewhat less than complimentary of the various collecting units and the policies they had at the time.

    3 hours later, as someone working in an adjacent field, I’m officially frustrated. One of the key purposes of library and museum collections policies is to provide a restraint against our own individual biases – it is far to easy for someone in curation or acquisitions to not notice their own blind spots. Having a collections policy in place and available to the public allows for us to be double checked, and provides a framework for explaining our rationales. The failure of the National Portrait Gallery to do so is frankly just poor management.

    But seriously… that painting sucks. And the man’s court filings are barely comprehensible – especially once it became clear that he was just putting in whatever dates he damned well pleased for somethings (he changed what year the district court ruling was filed against him multiple times throughout the document). I wish whatever clerk gets to wield the giant DENIED stamp pleasure in his task. Also, It seems ridiculous how many members of the various legislatures have form letters related to applications for your work to be in the Smithsonian. I mean… I swear, everyone of those looked entirely the same.

    • Nice comment, Tim. The little historical society Mrs. OB volunteers for has a written acquisition and deaccession policy, as well as a standing committee for same. The National Portrait Gallery doesn’t?

    • I simply meant that in lawsuits “right” is a term of art (no pun intended) and he is asserting a right that does not exist. If the Smithsonian decided to choose portraits by flipping coins or according to whether they liked to mug of the artist, nothing in the law prevents that. It may not BE right, but it doesn’t involve breaching any civil or human rights.

      Raven’s legal papers remind me of the plaintiff in a certain defamation suit I’m written about here….

  9. I’m surprised they didn’t eagerly accept the piece, all the while sniggering over how the bathetic lack of nuance in this Joe Sixpack art made it a perfectly appropriate work to represent Trump. They could then enjoy the continuing ridicule and mockery of the piece (and by extension, the president) sure to follow from the media and cognoscenti, while having given themselves cover to refuse something more dignified and flattering.

    As to the art, at least it wasn’t Marxist poster style, à la Obama, Hillary, Thunberg, etc., popular with the left these days.

    • I finally figured out why Obama’s Hedgerow portrait seemed odd to me: His hands. They seem too big, too out of proportion to the rest of the painting – they lack perspective (which is ironic for someone so gifted in . . . what?). I know painting human hands is one the hardest things for an artist to paint, but his hands jump off the canvas for no apparent reason. I can’t believe the artist thought he had the withered hands of a day laborer considering that he has absolutely no heritage of his forebears toiling in the hot southern sun, with his mom from Kansas (I think) and his dad from . . . well . . . somewhere else. I also can’t help but think hedge singing “Feed me, Seymour.”


      • OK, that image link is insanely long. Maybe this will work better:

        Yeah, the hands seem wrong. I’ve also wondered if the almost marijuana-like leaf clusters are a tribute to his Choom-gang heritage?

        …Still better than the “wrapped in a shower curtain” companion piece for Michelle.

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