I like to consider myself as being a man of a decent intellect, with opinions that are sometimes worth the bandwidth upon which they are written.
Indeed, if the quite phenomenal growth of this site is anything to go by, a great many of you in Internet Land enjoy the content we publish at Republic Standard- I speak for all of our team when I express my sincerest gratitude for your support. I wish then that I could take greater pleasure in being completely correct in my criticism of the leftist disdain for art that is stripping meaning from our world.
In my piece published last month "Art Kultur: Being and Meaninglessness," (I am nothing if not a snappy headline writer) I argued that:
The demand from Neo-Marxist culture warriors is to recognize the spectrum of genders, biological sexes, the kaleidoscope of races in the claim that this is the freedom we were searching for all along. It is a lie. Applying critical theory to our societies has had the effect of stripping meaning from our culture, reducing identity to arbitrary characteristics and elevating these aspects over which we have limited control to the exalted zenith of art, culture- and even science.
The cultural experience can thus only be viewed through this heinous lens of identity. The art is not art without knowing who made it. Identical art produced by different people is now either an authentic expression of identity or disgusting appropriation.
The portraits of the previous occupants of the White House were revealed yesterday. In politeness, we can agree that they are not good examples of art yet we must sympathize a little with the Obamas. It would have been impossible for them to commission White artists to produce their portraits and so the field was slimmed somewhat by the racist ire of their supporters. One might argue that the Obama's would only have commissioned a Black artist anyway, but I am feeling charitable. For wahtever motive, the lens of identity politics had to be applied and you can hang the future on the gib of it. Hang tradition too, no subtlety shall be used to render the 44th President- he will be garish and challenging to the staid old Whiteness of his predecessors.
The resulting piece from Kehinde Wiley will hang in the National Portrait Gallery until the end of the Republic- unless for some unfathomable reason some future president hangs it in the Oval Office during his administration; perhaps as a warning against monumental arrogance.
Wiley himself has previously painted images of Napoleon as a black guy (copying Jacques-Louis David to the point of plagiarism) and one of a black woman beheading a white woman. He commented:
“It’s sort of a play on the ‘Kill Whitey’ thing.”
Barack Obama said:
“But what I was always struck by whenever I saw his portraits was the degree to which they challenged our conventional views of power and privilege and the way that he would take extraordinary care and precision and vision in recognising the beauty and the grace and the dignity of people who are so often invisible in our lives and put them on a grand stage, on a grand scale, and force us to look and see them in ways that so often they were not."
Kill Whitey, indeed. To challenge the conventional view of power and privilege is to murder people for the color of their skin, apparently.
“People in our families, people that helped to build this country, people who helped to build this capital, people who to this day are making sure that this place is clean at night and serving food, and taking out the garbage and doing all the other stuff that makes this country work, so often out of sight and out of mind. Kehinde lifted them up and gave them a platform and said they belonged at the centre of American life and that was something that moved me deeply because in my small way that’s what I believe politics should be about: is not simply celebrating the high and the mighty and expecting that the country unfolds from the top down, but rather that it comes from the bottom up.”
Through the prism of Obama's false humility are his true beliefs are revealed.
A simplistic, socialistic worldview that sees politics- really he means the expression of power in society- as a moral crusade for the ‘little man’ against the power elite. Power does not reside at the bottom of society, nor does the country unfold from the bottom up. What Obama is referring to here is classical Marxist philosophy- the power remains at the top even under this scenario through the bearer of the scepter changes. The little man Obama speaks of is not the blue-collar White nor even the blue-collar Black. The little man at the bottom of the pile is a cipher onto which hope may be projected and then weaponized for the political ends of Barack Obama alone. As we saw in 2008 and 2012 it was an effective stratagem- though it was based only on the quest for and use of power for the sake of power. Propaganda is a wonderful tool, and the portrait of Obama is as failed an attempt at good propaganda as Shepard Fairey’s HOPE street art is an immortal work of marketing genius.
According to a report in The Guardian:
Barack Obama tried to negotiate less grey hair, he recalled, but Kehinde Wiley’s “artistic integrity” would not allow it. He tried to negotiate smaller ears but “struck out on that as well”. There was one area of concession, however: Wiley’s impulse to depict Obama on a throne, holding a scepter or perhaps even riding a horse. “I had to explain that I’ve got enough political problems without you making me look like Napoleon!”
Obama knows he is a member of the power elite. Wiley hates White people. Like Obama, he has an absentee Black father. Wiley and Obama are linked by this lack of male role model, and it is here that Wiley's motivation is revealed- he wished to raise Obama up on a steed like his portrait of the Black Emperor. He wished to create a Father/God figure to replace the one he does not have. Instead, he failed to understand how chairs work and drew some very big hands. Huge, even.
Unlike Simmie Knox, the first Black artist to paint the official presidential portrait when he was commissioned by Bill Clinton in 2003, Kehinde Wiley paints not to capture his subject but to insert himself into art. He is the Black Napoleon. He wanted to make Obama into a king because he wishes for Black supremacy- and it is quite a miracle that Obama was self-aware enough to decline the honor of being painted as an emperor himself.
We Was French Midgets
Even so, the portraits of the Obamas tell us so much about the arrogance of leftists in general and the Obamas in particular. Tasteless in the extreme Barack Obama eschews the traditional form of the Official Portrait, caring nothing for continuity or even the lineage of the office. He was the Hope, he was the Change, after all. Instead, the gallery will show 43 staid portraits that capture the character of the leaders of the most powerful nation on Earth, and a garish Sun-King surrounded by flowers as if he is the spirit of Gaia reborn.
Even though Wiley's work is already profoundly racist, it is the hypocrisy of cultural appropriation that interests the most. One can see why Obama likes it so much. In his paintings, Wiley found African-American men and posed them as if they were in the art of the classical European tradition. The irony of a White-hating, racist Black person posing Black people like White people- the aim is surely subversive, but in reality, betrays Wiley's jealousy of White achievements in art as much as White teens mimicking Black teens betrays their jealousy of the easy cool of hip-hop culture. The conflicting messages of multiculturalism (good) and cultural appropriation (bad) are in every stroke.
Instead of making a provocative piece, Wiley merely apes the work of far superior artists. Instead of creating something new and challenging, his art is vapid and bland- it says nothing, least of all about Barack Obama. Obama, surrounded by chrysanthemums, the official flower of Chicago, jasmines to symbolize his youth in Hawaii and African blue lilies for his paternal heritage. Nothing is said in floral terms of Ann Dunham, who died two years before Obama took his seat at the Illinois state senate. She is nothing, whereas the absent and drunkard Barack Obama Sr. is writ large in the background.
An homage to broken marriages and single-motherhood, a salutation to the classless and tasteless; a tone-deaf phlegm coughed up on the Office of the President. With that understanding, perhaps this piece is fitting for the subject, after all.
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This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at https://republicstandard.com/what-obamas-portrait-death-of-art/