The George W. Bush Presidential Library and Museum
Dallas

Our 43rd president turns out to be “something of a natural when it comes to making oil paintings,” said Roberta Smith in The New York Times. Many in the art world may wish to dismiss George W. Bush’s creative ability, but the 30 new portraits he’s just unveiled at his presidential library prove that he’s at least “a decent amateur.” If you’re expecting old-master-style precision in the likenesses he’s created of fellow world leaders, you’ll be disappointed. But Bush picked up a brush less than two years ago, and already he’s showing “an uncanny ability to translate photographs into more awkward images enlivened by distortions and slightly ham-handed brushwork.” His Vladimir Putin appears “suitably stony faced and ruthless,” his Angela Merkel “girlishly nonthreatening.” Soaking in his perspective is instructive, said Alexandra Petri in WashingtonPost.com. From W’s vantage point, “most world leaders look like terrifying potatoes with red eyes.”

The show is at least a brilliant PR move, said Jonathan Jones in TheGuardian.com. “Americans do tend to forgive their more controversial presidents,” and Bush is helping the public along by taking up a hobby that humanizes him more than any globe-trotting charity mission could. “It’s like being nice about the family idiot’s latest art project: ‘Aw, isn’t that sweet, poor George has done paintings of world leaders.’” Never mind that they “look the work of someone you wouldn’t trust to mow a lawn without cutting someone’s foot off”: Trying and failing just makes Bush more sympathetic. Not that he doesn’t sincerely care about being liked, said Douglas Lucas and Amy O’Neal in Salon.com. This is a man who “sees the leaders as a child would.” He’s not aiming to capture how any of his subjects experience the world. Mostly, he’s just trying to enumerate other members of the club he once ran with.