Presidential portraits celebrate the office; They don’t interrogate him

Suspension

Former President Barack Obama and former first lady Michelle Obama will unveil their official photos at the White House on Wednesday afternoon, a small but meaningful gesture of civility and continuity during these turbulent times, but also a profound reminder that our reliance on decency has turned out to be a poor defense of democracy.

In recent years, we’ve learned that many of the rules and models that we assumed were enshrined in the Constitution or at least confirmed by law—at one time, somewhere—were little more than common practice, the smallest detail. There are a host of traditions this country can do without – singing the national anthem before sporting events, inherited admissions to elite universities, and legendary bootstrap success stories. They turn patriotism into a competitive effort and treat financial success as something equally available to anyone with a little determination. But other traditions have been invaluable in keeping the country moving forward, with leadership moving from Democrats to Republicans, and from conservatives to liberals, without gunfire or bloodshed, until suddenly it didn’t. In January 2021, our traditions failed us. The country was overwhelmed by hatred and lies.

But this collapse has been coming for a long time. Our firm belief in the power and sanctity of our rituals has left us blind to reality. We had painted ourselves a beautiful picture on canvas that was warped and torn.

When President Biden hosts the Obama family at the White House, we will witness an afternoon of great respect between two men whose enduring relationship is both personal and professional. But the event will provide an opportunity to evaluate the very idea of ​​presidential portraits – these wonderful visualizations that are as much a reflection of us as they are of us, hitherto, any one man.

They have a history of gentle grandeur and grandiose vanity. They were not investigations of flawed men but humane interrogations or interrogations of an individual nature. They were poems of the institution and time marks.

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These images have always bore the brunt of our collective struggle with civic self-reflection. We don’t like to see flaws, apart from a few badges, and no failures. The dominant authors in this country’s history have seen heroism at every turn and have overlooked the cost of this exaggeration.

For review presidential photos It reveals a group of white, gray-haired men who sit or stand in a discreet style, in the pose of people who feel comfortable with grandeur. Aside from their clothes, they are not depicted in ways that provide much context for the times during which they ruled. Although many painters have made use of the passage of time during which they can consider their subjects and actions in the office, these men are not seen through the unemotional eye of history but rather the dazzling eye of hagiography. In these perceptions of general leaders, they will all become great. Or at least dignified, even if they keep other humans enslaved or aim at re-separation A country that was just beginning to lean toward justice or helped establish the ill-conceived term “Queen of well-being” on the psyche of the nation.

Most of these men face the scenes directly with their eyes expressing confidence and sternness. If they are shown in profile, it will be with their gaze towards an invisible horizon. Perhaps they were holding a sheath of papers or resting their hands gently on a chair or desk. The dome of the Capitol may be visible in the distance. Only in recent years has the American flag been prominent. Bill Clinton flanked by one. George W. Bush wears a small flag on his lapel. Some men smile, but their joy seems definite and not easy. After all, the presidency is a heavy burden. But men are not famous. Many paintings allude to religiosity and apparent destiny.

If there is one picture in the historical collection that has always stood out, it is that of John F. Kennedy. More impressionable in his rendering, he depicts Kennedy with his arms crossed in front of his chest and his head tilted downward in thought. He refrains from bragging and turns toward office heaviness, solitude, and office uncertainty. It’s a humble portrait does not mean that Kennedy was a humble man. Those who seek the presidency usually have an abundance of self-esteem. But it more clearly reflects the conflicting demands of the office and the complexity of this country.

Obama’s image will be added to this ratio. These White House portraits serve a different purpose than the ones that were commissioned National Photo Gallery. Kehinde Wiley’s life-size painting of Obama, part of the museum’s permanent collection, tells the man’s story. In its bright and colorful embodiment of it versus bold green Plants reminiscent of his hometown of Hawaii, as well as his family roots in Kenya and his adopted home in Chicago, he’s straight forward, boundless, exuding an easy-going charisma and a focused mind. Highlights the personality. He speaks, in almost minute detail, of who he is and what that represents.

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The official plaques hanging in the White House have always been a continuation of a seamless story. Obama interrupted the monochromatic narrative in its blackness, but we were quick to smooth out the tough spots in the country’s history by declaring the fact that he was elected as an end to our racial division rather than uprooting stagnant anger.

Our traditions–beautiful, genius, attractive–have a way of concealing our identity. They allow us to camouflage our weaknesses. They allow us to believe things that are not true, to give certainty that is fragile and fragile.

In unveiling the Obama portrait, we crave continuity. And of course we want to celebrate the man and its management. But to ensure democracy continues, we also need a display of the American presidency that is more than calculating, showing not only its greatness but its vicissitudes and follies. and that its relationship to democracy is as much a matter of faith as it is law.

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