Presidential Portrait
Daniel J. Flynn
by

The paintings unveiled of President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama at the Smithsonian’s National Portrait Gallery earlier this week make even the most stalwart Democrat cringe.

The president, sitting in a wooden chair in front of a background of leaves, looks not very presidential. The First Lady, or a depiction looking vaguely like her, sits, contemplative — perhaps wondering about her health after glimpsing her grayish skin — in front of an artificially blue background.

American Spectator editor-in-chief R. Emmett Tyrrell commented to me, “Obama looks like he’s sitting in a salad in that picture.” Regarding the portrait of the wife, he explained, “She looks like something out of a cartoon magazine.” Both paintings look a bit surreal, but after the eight years America endured perhaps surreal meshes neatly with reality.

Why did something so basic become such a disaster? The Obamas politicized art like they do so much else. In other words, they chose radicalized painters rather than great ones. In this sense, the paintings say a great deal about the subjects.

Kehinde Wiley, who painted Barack Obama, “was one of 50 American children who went to live in Russia at the Center for U.S./U.S.S.R. Initiatives,” according to Time, in the late 1970s. “There, he studied art and the Russian language.” Before painting Michelle Obama, Amy Sherald gained fame for a painting of a black woman holding the severed head of a white woman. She told New York magazine, “It’s sort of a play on the ‘kill whitey’ thing.”

Even art gallery rubes needn’t slant their heads and squint to figure that out.

Daniel J. Flynn
Daniel J. Flynn
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Daniel J. Flynn, a senior editor of The American Spectator, is the author of Cult City: Harvey Milk, Jim Jones, and 10 Days That Shook San Francisco (ISI Books, 2018), The War on Football (Regnery, 2013), Blue Collar Intellectuals (ISI Books, 2011), A Conservative History of the American Left (Crown Forum, 2008), Intellectual Morons (Crown Forum, 2004), and Why the Left Hates America (Prima Forum, 2002). His articles have appeared in the Los Angeles Times, Chicago Tribune, Boston Globe, New York Post, City Journal, National Review, and his own website, www.flynnfiles.com.   
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