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.”

Fick.

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.

Fick

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.

Fick.

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

Fick.

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Pointer: Tim Maher