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. Continue reading

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.

________________________

Pointer: Tim Maher