Remember when we learned that George W. Bush liked to paint? That was a moment.
I loathed his silver-spoon presidency, his frat-boy insouciance, his wars of cruelty and cultural annihilation from which the world has yet to recover. But I felt a little softer toward him as a human person when I saw those canvases.
“That bad people make good art is a cause for hope, ” writes Nick Drake in The Red Hand Files.
It’s almost beside the point to question whether GWB’s portraits are good; what they represent — at least to me — is what Drake calls “the transformed or redeemed aspect of an artist.”
These expressions of transcendence, of betterment, remind us that there is good in most things, rarely only evil. Once we awaken to this fact, we begin to see goodness everywhere, and this can go some way in setting right the current narrative that humans are shit and the world is fucked.
As someone who tends to default to that “humans are shit, and the world is fucked” narrative, it’s good to be reminded that humans are also creative and compassionate and generous and capable of being more than one thing (“shit”) at a time.
Also that the world will survive us. Probably.
Though we may not survive us.
I was listening to an episode of You’re Wrong About in which the hosts discuss the Dixie Chicks, now just the Chicks, and what happened to them after they criticized Bush from the stage during a 2003 concert. The cd bonfires. The banning from radio stations.
All this while the Bush administration was writing torture memos, invading Iraq, and operating Abu Ghraib prison and Guantanamo Bay detention camp (where some 40 prisoners still await adjudication, indefinitely detained, in legal limbo, nearly 20 years later.)
It’s true. Humans are shit; the world is fucked.
And yet: have you heard any early Dixie Chicks? Pre-Natalie Maines, all bluegrassy and western swing. They were sublime.