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Hacked George W Bush paintings help us inch (slightly) towards empathy


A hacker obtained private emails among Bush family members that include paintings by George W Bush. Photograph: guardian.co.uk

Powered by Guardian.co.ukThis article titled “Hacked George W Bush paintings help us inch (slightly) towards empathy” was written by Oliver Burkeman, for theguardian.com on Friday 8th February 2013 16.36 UTC

As you’ve maybe heard by now, several email accounts belonging to the Bush family appear to have been hacked, and The Smoking Gun website has published a selection of the results. (A spokesperson for the Bushes didn’t deny the documents’ authenticity, and said an investigation is underway.)

A hacker using the pseudonym Guccifer seems to have obtained private emails among family members, including details of the senior ex-president’s health troubles; plans for his funeral; a security code for the Bushes’ compound in Kennebunkport; a list of home addresses and mobile phone numbers, and…

… and two astonishing pictures, apparently showing paintings by George W Bush, one showing him naked in the shower, the other of his legs and feet in the bath, with the tap running. The Smoking Gun reports that Bush sent them to his sister, Dorothy Bush Koch; a third photograph shows him at his easel, working on a painting of a church.

There’s always something disorienting about those moments when you’re suddenly reminded that presidents, ex-presidents, prime ministers and others are people, with inner lives and vantage points, who take showers and stare at their feet in the bath. This jolting realisation is all the greater when the leader in question is Bush. We spent years, after all, trying to fathom what was going on in there: nothing much at all? Terrifying messianism? Criminal incuriosity? All manner of Oedipal hang-ups? Pictures of Bush in the bathroom don’t answer that, of course. But like any self-portrait, they inch us towards empathy. They invite us to imagine that being inside Bush’s head is something it’s possible to imagine.

They’re technically shoddy, to be sure. Presumably the word critics would use is “naive”. Look at that impossible reflection in the shower mirror, for starters, or the perspective on the bathtub, which must be the longest and narrowest in existence.

They’re arguably worse than the twee oil paintings of Dwight Eisenhower – the only other president, as far as I’m aware, with a passion for painting. (Hobby-wise, Obama prefers basketball and writing; Clinton favoured the tenor sax; John Quincy Adams swam nude in the Potomac; Richard Nixon enjoyed bowling and unhinged anti-Semitic outbursts.) But there’s something appealing in the quiet straightforwardness of Bush’s work, and in the lack of grandiosity in his choice of subject matter.

I know, I know, it doesn’t and shouldn’t alter history’s judgement on the man. And sending naked pictures of yourself to your sister is … odd. But at least Bush seems to have been introspecting, and cultivating some degree of curiosity about the world around him. Or about his bathroom, anyhow. As an amateur painter, we should avoid misunderestimating him.

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