George W. Bush may not always get a lot of props for his presidency, but lately the former chief is — to the surprise of most everyone — being hailed by art critics.
In 2017, The New York Times published a piece titled “Bush Nostalgia Is Overrated, but His Book of Paintings Is Not.”
The Washington Post’s Philip Kennicott wrote this about Bush's book of portraits of injured veterans, Portraits of Courage: A Commander in Chief’s Tribute to America’s Warriors: “No matter what you think of George W. Bush, he demonstrates in this book and in these paintings virtues that are sadly lacking at the top of the American political pyramid today: curiosity, compassion, the commitment to learn something new and the humility to learn it in public.”
Even New Yorker art critic Peter Schjeldahl — not a Bush fan — admits that the book is “surprisingly likable” and “the quality of the art is astonishingly high for someone who took up painting late in life because he felt ‘antsy.’”
Bush’s newfound artistic passion was surprising even to his wife. Laura Bush told Biography.com: “If someone said, ‘One day you will be writing a foreword for a book that includes George’s paintings,’ I would have said, ‘No way.’”
By taking up painting at age 66 in such a public way, Bush has become an example of what Next Avenue’s Vitality Arts special report is all about: using the arts as a tool to learn new things, take risks, connect with others and stay vital.
Click through the slideshow to see some of the portraits featured in Bush's book paired with the former president's insights on finding your inner artist later in life.