Person Over Policy

In the United States, we have always been obsessed with our country's leaders.  This is especially true currently with the presidential election approaching.  Everyone seems to have an opinion of each leader or potential leader that they will endlessly defend.  This becomes a problem though when it is realized that many arguments cannot be accounted for by the people who hold them.  This leads me to ask the question, what are we forming our opinions off of?  I try to answer this in this gallery.  In analyzing these pieces of art that portray our current president and past presidents, I found that the elements of these pieces often posit to reputations and dispositions rather than actual beliefs and propositions.  In this, we fall into the danger of supporting or protesting something that is very different than what meets the eye.

We first look at a piece of artwork that has been significantly seen in today's society. This piece was created in support of Barack Obama's presidential campaign. On it, we see a portrait of Obama looking thoughtfully into the distance but with what seems to be a focus. Next to this, we see a flower that is surrounded by what seem to be light rays. Both of these items of the piece strive to suggest the possibility of a new, better way of life. Finally, we see illustrations of voting machines with the word "vote!" written clearly above them. Out of these machines come lightning rays, which try to illustrate the "power" in a person's vote. Taking all of this into account, it is easy to say there is a lot going on in this poster, but little of it is actually centered around Obama himself. Though he appears to be deeply contemplating and creating ideas in his portrait, the vibrant U.S. colors and images next to him suggesting change through involvement ultimately encourage a sense of nationalism rather than highlighting Obama himself. The superficial ideals of the U.S. political system distract from the actual work ethic of Obama, and the actual issues facing the U.S. are not accounted for in this piece.
Here we see another piece of artwork depicting Barack Obama. It would be shocking for someone who does not know who Obama is to find out that he is the President after looking at this painting. In this painting, Obama is portrayed with a discontented look on his face. His clothes are painted in dark and dull shades of color and give off a worn-out look. The background of the painting is shadowy and gloomy. This painting has no sense of moral or aspiration, as is often associated with a president. Through this, the painting attempts to relate Obama to the many struggling citizens of the U.S. In placing Obama in a lower-class position, those in need are more likely to feel they can put their allegiance in him. Though this painting emits a sense of unity between Obama and some citizens of the U.S., it does not illustrate Obama's actual skills as a leader or address his methods of handling U.S. issues.
This is one of my contrasting pieces. Though the two presidents depicted, Kennedy and Reagan, have facial expressions similar to Obama's in "Obey", there is something that makes this piece very different. Under each man, there is a statement written that relates to an issue that these presidents faced at the time they were in office. This gives the viewer something to think about other than each president's overall disposition. Though it is good for our country's leader to be respectable and likeable in their disposition, we must not forget their methods of protecting and strengthening the U.S., since that is ultimately their duty. This piece reminds us to remind ourselves of that reality.
Even the portraits in The White House of the recent presidents illustrate our society's focus on personality and emotional relationships instead of policy. This is a portrait of the late President Ronald Reagan. We see him sitting on what appears to be the porch of The White House. Behind this porch is a bright and beautiful landscape. Before his break in the political spectrum, Ronald Reagan had a career as an actor in California. Subsequently, the landscape in this painting gives of somewhat of a sense of "Hollywood glamour". As well, Reagan's portrayed facial expression and sitting position give off a more poised than professional tone. It can clearly be seen through this painting that Reagan had a very personable disposition, but there is nothing that alludes to any of his political accomplishments or policies.
Here is another White House portrait of former president Bill Clinton. Even though I was very young during his presidency, it is not unknown to me that he is well-known for things besides his political policies. We see this in this portrait as well. Clinton is depicted in a very casual stance, unintimidating to someone who might be approaching him. The jacket of his suit is not completely buttoned and his tie is a bit crooked. His facial expression is not profound and he does not seem concerned. Due to the informal character of his appearance, he gives off a laid-back disposition. Despite the comfort found in Clinton's portrayed approachability, this painting does not offer any details of his political policies.
My final White House portrait example is of former president George W. Bush. In this portrait, he is portrayed wear very casual clothing compared to the other presidents in their portraits. Like Reagan and Clinton in their portraits, he is sitting in a very casual position. He is also not in an identifiable political office or building. The background appears to be in a house, possibly his home. His facial expression is very friendly, and he seems to be open to and ready for conversation. As with Reagan and Clinton, the relaxed disposition of Bush and the setting he's in only leave the impression of amiability to the viewer of the painting. Bush's specific beliefs and actual accomplishments are not communicated.
This is my other contrasting piece. As we see in this painting, George Washington is depicted as very plain but firm. Despite the numerous stories about him not smiling due to his teeth, the scowl on his face is not what makes him appear authoritative. Rather, his upright position and strong eye focus suggest that he is driven and focused. The simplicity in the colors of his clothing also suggest this. In the background, there is only a simple blend of neutral colors. This painting was created about 200 years before the other pieces in this gallery, which is a obvious but significant contrast. Given the modesty of the detail in this painting, it is easy to focus on George Washington not so much as a personality but as a politician. Looking at this painting, it does not seem like attracting people to the disposition of leaders was nearly as much of a concern as it is today.
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