by G. Brown
Ever take a selfie and think ‘ that doesn’t look like me?’ This next story is a lot like that. The Smithsonian National Gallery unveiled the official portraits of former first couple President Barack and Michelle Obama.
The Obamas handpicked the artists with the former President choosing Yale University trained Kehinde Wiley and Mrs. Obama selecting Baltimore-based artist Amy Sherald.
President Obama seemed pretty proud as he unveiled his portrait asking those in attendance, “How about that? That’s pretty sharp,” Obama joked, “I tried to negotiate less gray hair, and Kehinde’s artistic integrity would not allow him to do what I asked. I tried to negotiate smaller ears, struck out on that as well,”
As for her portrayal, Mrs. Obama said she was a bit “overwhelmed” and added “Let’s just start by saying, ‘Wow’ again.”
Both subjects seem extremely pleased with the outcome, but the art critics over on Twitter, not so much.
There were the usual suspects with racist comments , but we’ll omit those because…well, racists. But some people complained the Obamas could have chosen more talented artists. The couple wanted to commission African American artists for the job to show their support of Black artists who, let’s face it never had the chance to render portraits before now. Wiley and Sherald are the first African American artists ever bestowed the honor. The Obamas didn’t seem driven by vanity in selecting artists who would give us a Polaroid in paint, but they saw a bigger picture.
Michelle Obama said, “I’m also thinking about all the young people, particularly girls and girls of color, who in years ahead will come to this place and they will look up, and they will see an image of someone who looks like them hanging on the wall.” The kids won’t evaluate the portrait based on the context of aesthetics or contemplate the theory of beauty. They’ll see a painting of a Black woman and will inspire their imagination. It will cause them to think about possibilities or feel great accomplishments are possible for them. Isn’t that the point of art to touch the mind or soul? Style, technique, even skill level aren’t the measure of whether a painting or the artist is good. What the painting evokes in people is what matters…the beauty of art is in the eye of the beholder. Get the picture?