Monday Afternoon Open Thread

Okay, the thread below got so damn ugly, I am deliberately squashing it! Here’s a controversial topic that hopefully won’t devolve into a Game of Thrones-style bloodbath — the Obamas’ official portraits for the National Portrait Gallery were unveiled today:

My first reaction was, “What the hell?!?,” especially in response to Michelle Obama’s portrait. But the Obamas themselves seem happy with them, so who cares what I think?

Also, it’s possible the WaPo art critic was right when he said, “The Obamas’ portraits are not what you’d expect and that’s why they’re great.”

I’ll go along with that. What say you?

Open thread!

144 replies
  1. 1
    Jim, Foolish Literalist says:

    My first reaction was, “What the hell?!?,” especially in response to Michelle Obama’s portrait

    huh, I had the exact opposite reaction, I really like the Michelle portrait

  2. 2
    BC in Illinois says:

    Someone commented that they would have thought that President O could have gotten a better seat at Wrigley Field.

    But the art lovers in the household (Mrs BC and youngest daughter) really liked the FLOTUS portrait.

  3. 3
    JPL says:

    If you haven’t seen the unveiling ceremony, search CSPAN and watch it! The Washington Post art critic was spot on. Initially I liked Obama’s better, but now I’m not so sure. It shows Michelle in a different light, and I appreciate that.
    We need to have a meet-up at the Smithsonian to discuss, though.

  4. 4

    Okay, the thread below got so damn ugly, I am deliberately squashing it! Here’s a controversial topic that hopefully won’t devolve into a Game of Thrones-style bloodbath

    The paintings are a false flag KILL THE ARTISTS and anybody who disagrees with me is acting in BAD FAITH and HATES PUPPIES

  5. 5
    Jim, Foolish Literalist says:

    Just looking at PBO’s… Kinda funny that President ButtonDown-NoDrama-McTanSuit went with somebody known for the use of color in that way

  6. 6
    Yutsano says:

    When I was told what they were for (they’re not the official White House Portraits but for the Presidential gallery at the National Museum) I was all BUCK YES!!! They’re perfect.

    I read an article (can’t find it now) that each of the flowers in Barack’s portrait represents a part of his life (a hibiscus for Hawai’i, a chrysanthemum for Chicago etc) which I thought was a really neat touch.

    And the dress Michelle is wearing is an actual design. Anyone else want to see her rock it in the real world?

  7. 7
    NotMax says:

    Not something about which I care enough one way or the other, whether to enthuse or berate.

    Eye of the beholder and all that.

  8. 8
    rp says:

    I’m really into art and love Kehinde Wiley, but I don’t think that’s one of his better paintings. I have a feeling he was a little freaked out by the responsibility.

    I really like the Michelle portrait as a painting. I don’t like it as a portrait of Michelle — doesn’t capture her IMO.

  9. 9
    dmsilev says:

    I get mails (physical mail this time, with a stamp and everything):

    Time is a resistance to change. It exists as a lifeless illusion which appears unable to sustain itself because change is what keeps it going. If time is shortening, than it must be on its way out. And we will be left with change without time. Some call that action-at-a-distance

    I’d say that there’s a dorm room somewhere whose occupants have done a few too many bong hits, except that the author says he’s a retired aerospace engineer.

  10. 10
    NotMax says:


    Perhaps not voluntarily retired.

  11. 11
    Emma says:

    I like them both a lot. I think it’s fun that Obama, who seems so cool, collected, and the epitome of Cary Grant Tailoring, chose such an ebullient background. Michelle’s is superb. Nothing detracts from her looking back at you.

  12. 12
    guachi says:

    My first reaction to Obama’s painting was that it wasn’t very good. The background dominates the painting and it looks like he’s standing in front of an ivy wall but it was hard to tell, exactly. It’s just far too busy. If it were a photograph I’d tell the photographer to pull back and place the subject in the context of his background.

    It’s just an unpleasant painting.

  13. 13
    rk says:

    He’s merging into the background. He looks stern and not a happy person. It doesn’t capture his overall happy personality. I don’t know the guy in the picture and he’s not what I saw for the last 8 years. As for her. Is that Michelle Obama? The dress is hideous. The portraits don’t capture the essence of the Obamas. Everyone too stern. But I’m not an art critic so what do I know?

  14. 14
    Nicole says:

    I am thoroughly offended by a First Lady in a sleeveless dress. I DON’T NEED TO LOOK AT FIRST LADY ARMS.

    In other news, I’m feeling nostalgic for 2009.

    Seriously though, I like both portraits a lot. And I choose to think of the choice of dress for the portrait as being a classy, classy middle finger to that particular dumb controversy.

  15. 15

    @dmsilev: @NotMax: maybe he’s a retired aerospace engineer who’s done a few too many bong hits.

  16. 16
    Tenar Arha says:

    Copying over from previous thread because I like to share artists’ information when I can.
    @Ohio Mom: Blown away by Michelle Obama’s portrait. So I went looking for any examples of Amy Sherald‘s work near me. & I found an upcoming solo exhibition:
    May 2018, @ The Contemporary Art Museum in St. Louis MO via her website @

    🤔 Springtime road trip…

    Also too: One of my favorite contemporary portraits @ the MFA Boston, is Kehinde Wiley‘s portrait of John, 1st Baron Byron…

  17. 17
    DC says:

    I liked the Flotus one, but I didn’t like how the very busy background to the Potus one makes it hard to focus on his face. I’d have liked to see a matching set in the style of the Flotus one.

  18. 18
    ruemara says:

    I think you were expecting the classical portrait. These were never those types of painters. I like both but love Michelle O’s portrait. It’s an amazing composition and color choice.

  19. 19
    guachi says:

    Giving it another few minutes of thought it’s like Obama photo-bombed someone taking a picture of flowers, or something.

  20. 20
    geg6 says:

    I love them. Especially Michelle’s. Makes me wish I had a ton of money to go out and buy a bunch of their works.

  21. 21
    Waldo says:


    I really like the Michelle portrait as a painting. I don’t like it as a portrait of Michelle — doesn’t capture her IMO.

    Agreed. I would not have recognized her from the painting alone. PBO’s is a pretty good likeness.

  22. 22
    NotMax says:

    @Major Major Major Major

    Or snorting lines of Moon dust.

  23. 23
    Hill Dweller says:

    When Wiley and Sherald were picked to paint the respective portraits, I thought they were bold choices. But, while stylistically similar, there is a bit of the magic from their earlier work missing. It’s like they overthought the portraits.

  24. 24
    jl says:


    ” I really like the Michelle portrait as a painting. I don’t like it as a portrait of Michelle — doesn’t capture her IMO. ”

    Picasso did a famous portrait of Gertrude Stein, that is supposed to not resemble her. I think it does. I read that when someone objected that she did not look like his portrait of her, Picasso replied “Don’t worry. She will.”

    Edit: I like both of them. I’ll have to look up the artists’ other stuff.

  25. 25
    cmorenc says:

    Once again, both Barack and Michelle showed both cool and class, without so much as a touch of bling.

  26. 26
    Jim, Foolish Literalist says:

    in other news, moderate principled Republican, certified VSP and all-around Green Room pin-up boy Lindsey Graham is trying to gin up scandal to defend trump again

    Manu Raju‏Verified account mkraju
    Grassley and Graham are raising questions about a newly discovered Susan Rice email that recounts a January 2017 conversation with Obama, Yates and Comey. And says Obama said twice that “our law enforcement team needs to proceed as it normally would by the book.”

    Besides trying to muddy up Obama and Meuller, I think Lindsey Graham sees Susan Rice behind the curtains at night when he’s finishing his second bottle of Pinot Grigio

  27. 27
    david says:

    Man, all anyone wants to do is complain. They’re perfectly fine portraits. The Obamas like them, and that’s all that matters.

  28. 28
    Brachiator says:

    Love the portraits. Love them madly.

    Like that Michelle’s magnificent arms are displayed.

    ETA: I got my Black Panther tickets for Saturday. My mood has brightened greatly.

    ETA Part Deux. If there is a Baby Jesus in Heaven, please let the Obamas be given an official invitation to Prince Harry and Meghan’s wedding.. And let Dear Leader Donald choke on it! (Metaphorically speaking)

  29. 29
    guachi says:

    If the portraits were hanging in the Obamas’ home then I would agree them liking the portraits is “all that matters”. But the portraits are hanging in places the public can see so we get an opinion on whether we like what we’re seeing. Sorry to disappoint you.

  30. 30
    MisterForkbeard says:

    @Jim, Foolish Literalist: So Grassley/Graham are complaining that Obama said that law enforcement needs to actually follow the law and policies?

    I’m actually struggling to find the problem here. Is it that he says “our law enforcement team”, which is obviously code for Deep State? >_<

  31. 31
    dmsilev says:

    @NotMax: That thought occurred to me, though it’s entirely possible to be a perfectly competent engineer and then go off the deep end whilst trying to think Derp Thoughts. Two completely different skill sets.

  32. 32
    Starfish says:

    @Nicole: I didn’t catch that. Now that painting is even better.

    Was it here that someone shared the video with both artists? Here is a video of Kehinde Wiley. Here is one of Amy Sherald.

    Amy Sherald’s painting ended up more realistic than I expected it to be. I expected something different from Kehinde Wiley’s picture, and it did not live up to my expectations. But someoen explained how the foliage includes plants native to the Chicago area and also plants native to Hawaii. That was an interesting touch.

    These portraits are the Obamas themselves doing their best work. They bring national attention to artists that are reasonably large but not necessarily well known. They did this when President Obama had playlists that included music that was not necessarily the most popular stuff out there. They did this when Michelle Obama wore clothing by little-known fashion designers.

    They were wonderful people who did not make everything about themselves, and I miss them so much.

  33. 33
    Mary G says:

    I was initially put off by the expression on Mrs. Obama’s face, but after I looked at the picture for a while, it really strikes me that it shows the heavy burden his presidency had to have had on her. Eight year of being called a transvestite monkey moocher married to a moronic evil genius has to weigh on her in many ways.

    Ohio Mom nailed it in the last thread at #106:

    What strikes me about both portraits is the faces — both Barack and Michele are very subdued, almost tired looking (who wouldn’t be after eight years in the White House followed by watching Trump’s antics). Both also look very determined. Theirs are not blank faces, you can almost hear them thinking.

    What a great post, OM.

  34. 34
    What Have The Romans Ever Done for Us? says:

    @Nicole: Yeah and what’s with the Ni-CLANG President not wearing a tie for his portrait. Has he no respect for the office? (sarcasm – I’m sure this is a thing on RWNJ blogs and talk radio without even investigating it).

  35. 35
    MisterForkbeard says:

    @Waldo: I think this is where I fall on it. I like Michelle’s painting, but it’s not a good ‘portrait’ of her, per se.

  36. 36
    jl says:


    ” So Grassley/Graham are complaining that Obama said that law enforcement needs to actually follow the law and policies? ”
    Defending Trump leads people to novel forms of argumentation.

    ” obviously code for Deep State? ”
    Don’t you mean “Deep State COUP PLOTTING, BY 80 percent gorilla 80 percent pig lizard replicant space aliens from the center of the earth, to overthrow the Holy anointed God King Trump, blessed and installed to office by THE LORD”?

    I think that would be the moderately restrained version of what you should have typed.

  37. 37
    Brachiator says:

    Okay, an Open Thread. A couple of posters have noted that they went to see and thoroughly enjoyed the new movie “Paddington Bear 2.” I have not see it yet, but have only heard wonderful things about it. A listener emailed the Kermode and Mayo movie review program and podcast and noted:

    “I know it is a violation of the [movie goer’s code], but at the end of the movie I wanted to shout out, ‘Please stay through the credits! There is a wonderful end scene. And I know because I’m in the movie.‘”

    Anyway, a little something for those who may go see what everyone says is a totally charming and funny movie that pleases kids and adults. Stay to the end.

  38. 38
    chris says:


    I really like the Michelle portrait as a painting. I don’t like it as a portrait of Michelle — doesn’t capture her IMO.

    The hairline bothers me but I like the painting. Surprised no one has commented on the size of Obama’s hands.

  39. 39
    randy khan says:

    A couple of thoughts about the portraits:

    1. It’s pretty clear to me that the Obamas decided they wanted contemporary portraits by people whose work they admired. I doubt that either one of them was at all surprised by what they got. And, as the Post critic says, it seems like a conscious decision to, in part, get artists into the National Portrait Gallery who aren’t the same as the artists who already are there.

    2. The President’s portrait is growing on me. At first it seemed odd, but on reflection I kind of like the vaguely surreal way he’s in a chair floating in front of the foliage, with the floor only implied by the bit curling over his foot. The pose seems very much something he would do. Since these portraits are supposed to be serious, I don’t have an issue with the expression.

    3. The First Lady’s portrait I really like. She’s looking at us boldly, and it feels almost – but not quite – like a photo. And I love the bare arms and the dress.

  40. 40
    MisterForkbeard says:

    @jl: You have a point. I really should have been more thorough and fact-based in my prediction of what Republicans are saying.

  41. 41
    Mary G says:

    And I LOVE that President Obama’s hands are front and center and look YUUGE. Somewhere in DC Twitler is clutching his remote in impotent rage.

    ETA: I see Randy Khan beat me to it.

  42. 42
    Amaranthine RBG says:

    First, good on them for choosing a fresh style. The Barack portrait is wonderful.

    The Michelle portrait is horribly done. You could not use that to pick her out of a lineup. Just very clumsy draftsmanship. And, while the emphasis on the geometric patterns of the dress and the pastel background is a departure from past portraiture, it is a well-worn path for this artist. Scores of similar paintings in her catalog.

  43. 43
    indycat32 says:

    Anybody notice the size of President Obama’s hands

  44. 44
    TenguPhule says:

    Here’s a controversial topic that hopefully won’t devolve into a Game of Thrones-style bloodbath — the Obamas’ official portraits for the National Portrait Gallery were unveiled today:

    You and your optimism.

  45. 45
    Aardvark Cheeselog says:

    Reposting something from the morning open thread:

    This seems possibly of interest to jackals: A government worker says he didn’t want to help ICE deport immigrants. So he quit.

    Somebody sent me a link to a GoFundMe.

    Updated from the AM thread: Note who is the organizer of the GoFundMe.

  46. 46
    germy says:

    Excellent comment on the previous thread:

    SiubhanDuinne says:
    February 12, 2018 at 4:04 pm

    Trump, I expect, will select Jon McNaughton.

  47. 47
    different-church-lady says:

    I can see both sides of this. They’re wonderful portraits by themselves, but extremely jarring in their context with the others in the gallery.

  48. 48
    TenguPhule says:


    I’m actually struggling to find the problem here.

    The problem was that President Obama was black and a Democrat.

  49. 49
    Fair Economist says:


    I really like the Michelle portrait as a painting. I don’t like it as a portrait of Michelle — doesn’t capture her IMO

    Ditto. Very different from the painting of Barack, which even in a thumbnail is quite recognizably him. I’m fine with the allegorical background for Barack as well.

    I’m looking forward to seeing these portraits in the context of other recent presidential couples, who all chose much more traditional styles of portraiture.

  50. 50
    Another Scott says:

    @chris: Ahem.



  51. 51
    germy says:

    This should be an interesting, if short read:

    “The Faith Of Donald J. Trump” ?

  52. 52
    Brachiator says:

    The Trump Budget via WaPo

    First Collector: At this festive time of year, Mr. Scrooge, it is more than usually desirable that we should make some slight provision for the poor and destitute.
    Ebenezer: Are there no prisons?
    First Collector: Plenty of prisons.
    Ebenezer: And the union workhouses – are they still in operation?
    First Collector: They are. I wish I could say they were not.
    Ebenezer: Oh, from what you said at first I was afraid that something had happened to stop them in their useful course. I’m very glad to hear it.

    President Trump proposed a budget Monday that hits the poorest Americans the hardest, slashing billions of dollars in food stamps, health insurance and federal housing subsidies while pushing legislation to institute broad work requirements for families receiving housing vouchers, expanding on moves by some states to require Medicaid and food stamp recipients to work.

    The Trump budget proposal would gut the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, better known as food stamps, by $17.2 billion in 2019 — equivalent to 22 percent of the program’s total cost last year. It calls for additional cuts of more than $213.5 billion over the next decade, a reduction of nearly 30 percent, according to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities.

    In addition, Trump is proposed a full-scale redesign of SNAP, which currently provides an average of $125 per month to 42.2 million Americans. For the last 40 years, the program has allowed beneficiaries to use SNAP benefits at grocery stores as if they were cash. Under the budget proposal, the Department of Agriculture would use a portion of those benefits to buy and deliver a package of U.S.-grown commodities to SNAP households each month, using the government’s buying power to obtain common foods at lower costs.

    “This budget proposes taking away food assistance from millions of low-income Americans — and on the heels of a tax cut that favored the wealthy and corporations,” said Stacy Dean, president for food assistance policy at the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities. “It doesn’t reflect the right values.”

    The proposal repeats several cost-cutting measures from last year, including new restrictions on eligibility and stricter requirements around the use of work-requirement waivers, which allow states with high unemployment rates to extend benefits to adults who are out of work for longer than three months.

    Congress has final say over spending — but Monday’s budget proposal is seen as an important sign of Trump’s priorities.

    The budget proposal would also “reform” programs at the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development “to encourage the dignity of work and self-sufficiency,” the document said.

    Trump’s proposed budget for the 2019 fiscal year includes an 14 percent cut to HUD, amounting to $6.8 billion below the agency’s current $48 billion spending, an even deeper cut than his previous year’s proposal which had been the most dramatic cut to HUD since President Ronald Reagan slashed the agency’s funding in the early 1980s.

    The administration has proposed eliminating the entire fund for public housing capital repairs, a savings of nearly $2 billion a year. The targeted cut comes at a time when public housing faces a backlog of capital needs upwards of $40 billion, said Diane Yentel, president and chief executive of the National Low Income Housing Coalition. In New York City, about 80 percent of public housing tenants suffered heating and hot water outages in recent months because the aging boiler systems are in desperate need of repair, Yentel said.

    “The administration wants state and local governments to take care of that, which is just a total abdication of its responsibility,” she said.

    Trump also proposed cutting a federal housing subsidy program, known as Section 8 vouchers, by nearly $1 billion, which Yentel said would result in more than 250,000 low-income families losing their housing assistance. The cuts would come on top of the administration’s proposal to raise the rent for low-income families receiving public housing help.

    The proposed HUD budget, like last year, would eliminate funding for Community Development Block Grants, which play a key role in disaster recovery, as well as grants to states and local governments to increase homeownership for the lowest-income Americans, and funding for neighborhood redevelopment. The Trump administration said it has proposed shutting down programs that are “duplicative or have failed to demonstrate effectiveness” and that state and local governments are better equipped to shoulder the responsibility for community and economic development.

    On healthcare for low-income Americans, Trump’s budget calls for cutting federal Medicaid funding by $250 billion over the next 10 years, as the administration envisions passing a law “modeled closely” on a Senate Republican proposal that failed last fall to repeal the Affordable Care Act.

    The White House plan, similar to that spearheaded by Sens. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) and Bill Cassidy (R-La.), would dramatically cut federal health spending and send some of the savings to the states. Republicans say doing so would give governors the flexibility to bring down costs, but experts say that the overall reduction in government spending would cost millions of Americans their health insurance.

    The White House plan also calls for new per-person limits on the amount of health care each Medicaid enrollee can use, as well as tying federal spending on the program to the cost of inflation.

  53. 53
    zhena gogolia says:


    Oh, yes. The end is fabulous. The whole thing is so great. But the people were coming in to clean the floor and my husband and I were still sitting there, laughing and crying.

  54. 54
    Fair Economist says:

    @Jim, Foolish Literalist:

    And says Obama said twice that “our law enforcement team needs to proceed as it normally would by the book.”

    So, the Republicans are trying to make a scandal out of Obama following the law and the rules. Almost a distillation of the past 9 years.

  55. 55
    chris says:

    @Another Scott: Well played, sir!

  56. 56
    efgoldman says:

    I’m baaaaaaaaaaack
    With a spiffy new (rebuilt) box. Man the solid state hard drive is incredibly fast. Well worth the extra cost
    Now I have to restore all my settings, move my files…..(I didn’t have a backup drive big enough….)
    Gyro Gearloose even came up and installed everything, charged me (as he always has) way too little
    The only nooz i’ve seen since Friday is what the networks supplied. I don’t watch cable news – I already had my stroke.
    I’m not going to try to catch up – too much time
    Back into the jackal herd. Believe or not I missed [some of] you

  57. 57
    TenguPhule says:

    @Brachiator: Theft under color of Law.

  58. 58
    Gravenstone says:

    @dmsilev: Someone misspelled inertia in their first sentence …

  59. 59

    @dmsilev: I was thinking of something a bit stronger than bong hits.

  60. 60
    JeanneT says:

    What I would like now is to have each of the artists paint the other Obama – THAT would be an interesting compliment to these original works. The second set could hang in the future presidential library.

  61. 61
    Jeffro says:

    Oh good – an important topic.

  62. 62

    Shameless self promotion: I blogged about making time to write.

    Promotion of a BJ meet-up: Stinger and I have been looking for a Saturday that promises good weather and this coming Saturday looks likely. Weather permitting, we’re meeting noonish at the Cherry Creek Café in Waterloo. Let me know if you’re interested (click on my nym). Fingers crossed the weather prediction holds.

  63. 63
    Lapassionara says:

    @Mary G: Yes, and I got there late, so thank you, Ohio Mom.

  64. 64
    patrick II says:

    We all live in the local space-time structure so we wouldn’t notice anyway.

  65. 65
    jl says:

    @different-church-lady: National Portrait Gallery already has some ‘interesting’ material on the presidents that is just as jarring with traditional idea of great person pix. I am not happy with the idea, but Barack’s would go well with Dub’s. I don’t want them close to each other on historical and ethical grounds, but if you ignored what they did in office, artistically maybe a nice pair. Opinions may differ.

    And a lot of the traditional stuff seems there doesn’t seem all that great artistically, much more of historical interest, though nothing wrong with that in a national gallery.

    Smithsonian National Portrait Gallery.

  66. 66
    TenguPhule says:


    I’m baaaaaaaaaaack

    Jim Carrey, is that you?

  67. 67
    chris says:

    FYWP-You do not have permission to edit this comment.

    Well played, everyone else too!

  68. 68
    ruemara says:

    Christ. These are not portraits done to recreate a likeness. These are portraits of the personalities of people. It’s allegorical, haters. It doesn’t matter that they’re going in the National Portrait Gallery, these can be very modern & black as fuck representations of the personalities and experiences that embody Barack & Michelle. Those sides are also not required to be the ones you’ve seen in the past 10 years, because what is the point of recreating what folks already know? Art brings out things you don’t know, slyly, directly or in passing. Anything else is paint by numbers.

  69. 69
    Brachiator says:

    Here’s a controversial topic that hopefully won’t devolve into a Game of Thrones-style bloodbath

    How about a hearty round of The Rains of Castamere!

  70. 70
    Yutsano says:

    @efgoldman: *looks at watch a la River Song*
    “And what sort of time do you call this?”

  71. 71
    rp says:

    @Waldo: To be clear, that’s what I meant by “capture.” It doesn’t have to be a perfect likeness of the person to be a great portrait, but it does have to capture some aspect of his or her personality (see e.g., Alice Neel or Alex Katz). I’m not sure this captures Michelle Obama.

  72. 72
    laura says:

    I approve of the scale of President Obama’s hands.
    In a recent exhibition (High Fructose -ten years) at the Crocker Art Museum, Kahinde Wiley had a portrait and it’s scale, subject and unapologetic black Maleness was unbelievably moving.
    I’m thrilled that President Obama selected him for this important portrait.

  73. 73
    jl says:

    Check out the bust of Gerald Ford.

    Couldn’t get the same artist for Dub? If the sculptor is the same guy as the cartoonist, seems like he would have been eager for the commission. I think the result would have been notable.

  74. 74
    SiubhanDuinne says:


    Jon McNaughton fascinates me — in the same way the Gallery of Regrettable Food fascinates me.

  75. 75
  76. 76
    patrick II says:


    If I could pick a time for great Obama expressions, it would be during the White House science fairs, the joy and pride he expressed while talking to the junior scientists was wonderful. Especially the air-driven marshmallow cannon.

  77. 77
    Lapassionara says:

    @Brachiator: Budget zeroes out lots of good things, like NEA, CPB, etc, in addition to being cruel to the poors.

    But seriously, it is not just immoral to harm poor people, it costs more in the long run. It is bad for us economically. I wish the people who pushed back on this kind of thuggery would use all the arguments they have, not just the morality one.

  78. 78
    jl says:

    I for one think very difficult to capture Michelle Obama in just one pic. Personality or looks-wise.

    Edit: Other aspects of Michelle’s personality, the smiley sparkly cheerful spirited side, is what I’d like captured. But that is just my opinion. Like criticizing a book because I wanted the author to write a different book.

  79. 79

    OT but important.
    The Republican immigration bill empowers ICE to deport people without a hearing.

  80. 80
    Gin & Tonic says:


    and it’s scale, subject and unapologetic black Maleness was unbelievably moving.

    Somehow this line made me think of Robert Mapplethorpe’s photograph entitled, IIRC, Man in Polyester Suit.

  81. 81
    jl says:

    And I’d like Obama to have one of his subtle “WTF, you kdding me? GTFO’ expressions when being harassed by nincompoops and GOPers.

  82. 82
    Sab says:

    I love both of the portraits. They are so different from each other, and also so different from the Obamas’ public personas.

    His portrait is so insanely energetic in the background, while he looks quietly worried in the foreground.

    Her portrait is so quiet and serious, which is so different from the positive energy she always projects.

    It’s like they are finally letting us see a side of themselves that they had to keep hidden.

  83. 83
    jl says:

    @Sab: I admit that Barack Obama’s portrait is growing on me. I’m not sure ‘worried’ nails the expression, though.

  84. 84
    japa21 says:


    The White House plan also calls for new per-person limits on the amount of health care each Medicaid enrollee can use

    Sorry, you’ve already met your maximum of $5 per year. No chemo for you.

  85. 85
    Amaranthine RBG says:

    You don’t know what you are talking about.

    Sherald was not attempting to capture Michelle’s personality or spirit. She was just repeating the same motif she’s used scores of times:

    Oh wait, maybe all those people wearing strong geometric clothing against a uniform background wash have *EXACTLY* the same personality as Michelle. Please, be serious. As a portrait, it is crap. It has some merit as a generic painting.

  86. 86
    ruemara says:

    @jl: @schrodingers_cat: Oh, that’s not disturbing at all.

    @Amaranthine RBG: Please, do not waste your time with me as you continue on with your self-rogering with a rusty jackhammer.

  87. 87
    Ohio Mom says:

    @guachi: You should see some of the backhrounds in Wiley’s other work if you think this one is busy.

    As I said in the thread below, both works are very much in each artist’s canon. Each portrait is in conversation with all the works previously done by each artist.

    To me, one of the subtexts of these two portraits is: there is a lot of history — Black American history — the viewer needs to take into account. It is part of white art’s privilege that we know so much about where it comes from. Even if we haven’t formally studied art history, it is in the air we breathe whenever we walk into a typical art museum. The default is usually white and European.

    Once again, the Obamas are challenging us to better ourselves.

  88. 88
    guachi says:

    I have the book by Obama’s photographer, Peter Souza, and basically every photo of Obama in that and dozens that aren’t in the book are more appealing pictures of Obama than the official portrait.

  89. 89

    @ruemara: But I am an emotional purity pony for suggesting that this deal is awful and that Ds should not sign on to this.

  90. 90
    NotMax says:

    Yuck and yay.

    Step-brother just called because he wanted to make some changes to his business web site and was lost at sea, tech-wise. He uses as a site creation/hosting service, whose interface and editing functions are not particularly intuitive. He gave me his log-in details and after some trial and error I got the hang of their idiosyncracies and made the changes for him. Also suggested some minor changes in wording here and there which he accepted in toto.

  91. 91
    Amaranthine RBG says:


    Oh you think your resort to childish insults is going to distract anyone from the fact that you are talking out your ass? Summary:

    “Ooooohhhh, no you haterz, it’s not supposed to be representational. It is all about capturing the distilled essence of Michelle. You don’t understand the artz.”

    Uh, the artist has done scores of paintings in exactly the same style of other people.

    “You suck.”

  92. 92
    Ohio Mom says:

    @guachi: You are comparing apples and oranges. Pete Souza was aiming for something very different than Wiley is.

    I get it though. I remember the first Wiley pairing I saw. I don’t keep up with new artists anymore and I’d never seen anything like it and didn’t like it.

    Then I was visiting another museum in another town, and there was another one of those large, loud, overbearing paintings I couldn’t decipher. It dawned on me that as long as I kept on wandering into galleries filled with new works, I was going to keep seeing Wiley’s.

  93. 93
    TenguPhule says:


    The Republican immigration bill empowers ICE to deport people without a hearing.

    But it might save some Dreamers! /s

  94. 94
    Aleta says:

    Artist Amy Sherald

    Ms. Sherald paints only African-Americans. Her subjects “exist in a place of the past, the present and the future,” she said. “It’s like something I sense with my spirit more than my mind.”

    The title of one of her portraits is

    “What’s precious inside of him does not care to be known by the mind in ways that diminish its presence (All American),” 2017, by Amy Sherald.

    Her work is amazing.

  95. 95
    Suzanne says:

    I had an incredible professor in college who did not give one rat’s ass about likeness in a portrait.

    I like these a lot.

  96. 96
  97. 97
    Yutsano says:

    @Suzanne: It took me a minute, but I like them a lot now. Especially the symbolism in Barack’s.

    Also: why am I the only one who wants to see Michelle actually wear that dress? It’s an existing design.

  98. 98
    WaterGirl says:

    If someone already posted this, I missed it. Email from Barack Obama:

    Today, Kehinde Wiley and Amy Sherald became the first black artists to create official, Smithsonian-commissioned portraits of a former President and First Lady.

    And Michelle and I joined our distinguished predecessors and thousands of our fellow Americans on the walls of the Smithsonian National Portrait Gallery.

    Have a look at these two extraordinarily talented artists’ work.

    To call this experience humbling would be an understatement.

    That’s because, as a former president, when you choose an artist to describe your likeness, you have the opportunity to shape, quite literally, how someone sees the office of the American presidency. And how they might see themselves in that presidency.

    Kehinde Wiley and I share some things in common. Both of us had an American mother who raised us, an African father who was absent from our lives, and a search to figure out just where we fit in. I wrote a book about that journey, because I can’t paint. But I suspect a lot of Kehinde’s journey is reflected in his art. I was struck by the way his portraits challenge the way we view power and privilege; the way he endows his subjects, men and women often invisible in everyday life, with a level of dignity that not only makes them visible, but commands our attention.

    The arts have always been central to the American experience. They provoke thought, challenge our assumptions, and shape how we define our narrative as a country.

    Thanks to Kehinde Wiley and Amy Sherald, generations of Americans — and young people from all around the world — will visit the National Portrait Gallery and see this country through a new lens. These works upend the notion that there are worlds where African Americans belong and worlds where we don’t. And that’s something Michelle and I hope we contributed to over the eight years we were so privileged to serve you from the White House.

    They’ll walk out of that museum with a better sense of the America we all love. Clear-eyed. Big-hearted. Inclusive and optimistic.

    And I hope they’ll walk out more empowered to go and change their worlds.

    – Barack

    We’re building a campus for active citizenship
    in the heart of Chicago’s South Side.
    Help support our work:

  99. 99
    WaterGirl says:

    @NotMax: If he never upgrade to the latest version on Squarespace, and he is using version 5, I agree with everything you wrote. The later version is supposed to be much more intuitive, but I haven’t bothered yet because my web page is a very static thing so it’s not worth the time.

  100. 100
    Brachiator says:


    The White House plan also calls for new per-person limits on the amount of health care each Medicaid enrollee can use

    Sorry, you’ve already met your maximum of $5 per year. No chemo for you.

    Trump is running the country like a business, and citizens are now employees.

    Who can be fired.

  101. 101
    Yutsano says:

    @WaterGirl: That seriously needs to be framed next to his portrait. That’s extraordinary.

  102. 102
    PJ says:

    I don’t know if anyone has posted this yet, but a white police officer in Weirton, WV, who was fired for not shooting a mentally ill black man who was not a threat, won a substantial settlement in a wrongful termination lawsuit: . The officer, who was an Iraq and Afghanistan vet, determined that the suspect was not a threat, though he was holding a gun (which turned out to be unloaded), and was trying to talk him down when two other officers showed up and immediately shot and killed the suspect. From the department’s attitude, it seems like they have a shoot to kill policy on any black person with a gun. There is some more background on the lawsuit here:

  103. 103
    Sab says:

    @jl: I think you are right. Not so much worried as somber.

  104. 104
    TenguPhule says:

    Everything wrong with our country summed up in one sentence.

    Koch-backed group fights paid sick leave laws as flu sweeps US

    But with a flu epidemic currently raging across the US, potential new sick leave measures are facing opposition from the same Koch Brothers-backed lobbying group that led the legal assault on Obamacare.

    When Maryland lawmakers moved last month to override the governor’s veto of a bill allowing 700,000 workers to earn sick leave, the state’s director of the National Federation of Independent Business – the Koch-backed group – complained it would create job-killing costs and mandate “devastating sanctions” for failure to comply.

    On Thursday, the NFIB backed a failed attempt to delay the law, which went into effect on Sunday.

    Now it wants Austin city council members to vote no this Thursday on an ordinance that would make the Texas liberal enclave the first city in the south to require paid sick leave from private employers.

    Past tax records reveal most of the NFIB’s funding comes from Freedom Partners, whose nine-member board includes eight current or former key figures at Koch Industries and other Koch entities. More than 95% of the candidates it backs are Republican.

    While its representatives are often quoted in the media as proponents of small businesses, the group refuses to release its donor list and tends to lobby for policies that benefit billionaires and corporate interests.

  105. 105
    TenguPhule says:


    and citizens are now employees. serfs.


  106. 106
    jl says:


    At least CNN is reporting it for what it is. And Wolf Blitzer, of all people, is pointing out the contradiction between Trump’s campaign promises and this latest betrayal..

    President Trump now proposing massive cuts to Medicare and Medicaid.

  107. 107
    Elie says:


    Here Here! Excellent comment with which I totally agree. Both portraits operate in the conscious and sub-conscious realm and both artists are known for communicating the surreal and at times fantastic that imbues seeming reality. Their tenure was exactly like that — hyper-realistic on one hand but then other worldly hinting of another reality at the same time. Brilliant! And for all the folks who wanted just a ho hum portrait, that will come in the “official” portraits. This is for the Smithsonian portrait gallery and they are smashing — at least to me!

  108. 108
    Lee Hartmann says:

    @Jim, Foolish Literalist:
    Me too. anything but banal for these two.

  109. 109

    Trivial but I see Prince Harry invited the Obamas to his wedding but not Trump. Good for you, Harry.

  110. 110
    Ohio Mom says:

    @Amaranthine RBG: Yes, Sherald’s paintings have a certain look. But holding it against her is like complaining that Monet kept painting haystacks until he switched to lily ponds.

    Or that all Frank Sinatra sang were ballads — how come he didn’t do any rousing folk-protest songs set to a guitar!

    And why isn’t there any cheese in Chinese food? I love melted, gooey cheese and we live in an age of international trade. Can’t they update their cuisine to include my favorite food?

    Sherald’s goal, as I understand it, is to work toward filling the art world’s gap of Black American portraiture. I haven’t read enough to know why she chooses that gray color scale for the skin tone or the flat background. It’s up to me to meet her halfway and find out what the meaning of her choices are.

  111. 111
    Brachiator says:


    and citizens are now serfs.


    Vladimir Putin approves this message.

  112. 112
    Brachiator says:

    @Dorothy A. Winsor (formerly Iowa Old Lady):

    Trivial but I see Prince Harry invited the Obamas to his wedding but not Trump. Good for you, Harry.

    Is this official?

  113. 113
    Suzanne says:

    @Yutsano: I was at the National Portrait Gallery in September, and I saw the temporary Chuck Close images of BHO. These will be great additions to the gallery.

    Sherald’s work is all about these weird, not-quite-real atmospheres, which made her a really unusual choice, in my mind. Usually a portrait is about expressing something about the subject, but her work is really more about this almost uncomfortable sensation of black bodies in these almost cartoonish environments. To me, that says a great deal about Michelle Obama, and more importantly, how the country regarded Michelle Obama.

  114. 114
    Gelfling 545 says:

    @Brachiator: According to a diary at Kos today, the inviting has gone according to your wishes.

  115. 115

    @Brachiator: I don’t think so yet. I saw it at Kos which gets it from The Daily Star

    Perhaps I was so eager that I jumped the gun. I want it to be true!.

  116. 116
    SiubhanDuinne says:


    why am I the only one who wants to see Michelle actually wear that dress?

    Oh, believe me, you are not.

  117. 117
    debbie says:


    Everybody’s a critic…

    Michelangelo and Rodin (just to name two) similarly and intentionally exaggerated for drama and emphasis.

  118. 118
    Gelfling 545 says:

    @Amaranthine RBG:” You could not use that to pick her out of a lineup. “
    An interesting notion of a goal of portraiture.

  119. 119
    randy khan says:

    @Amaranthine RBG:

    If you don’t see differences in the portraits you found in your image search, I’m kind of surprised. You need to look beyond the background and the skin tone. Just compare the guy in the blue striped shirt, the woman in the green flowered dress, and the First Lady’s portrait, to pick out three. They are very different in formality and attitude, among other things.

  120. 120
    WaterGirl says:

    @Yutsano: Definitely brought a tear to my eye.

  121. 121
    debbie says:

    @Ohio Mom:

    She was interviewed here and explained her process.

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  123. 123
    Ridnik Chrome says:

    @SiubhanDuinne: “One gets the impression of peas reenacting the evacuation of Dunkirk.”

  124. 124
    Ohio Mom says:

    So many thought-provoking comments in this thread — many of you gave me new ways of thinking about the portraits. It’s been fun.

    Can you imagine if we had time to discuss all sorts of wide-ranging topics instead of having to concentrate on saving our country from Trump and the Republicans? Something else to hold against them.

  125. 125
    debbie says:


    Dude totally cheated on Trump’s hair. Heresy!

  126. 126
    Fair Economist says:


    her work is really more about this almost uncomfortable sensation of black bodies in these almost cartoonish environments. To me, that says a great deal about Michelle Obama, and more importantly, how the country regarded Michelle Obama.

    That makes it sound like this choice is performance art by Ms. Obama. Interesting insight.

  127. 127
    GeoWHayduke says:

    I think they are amazing. Haters should die mad.

  128. 128
    ET says:

    The Obama’s chose those artists after seeing their work and I think met with them in the choosing process. They chose them for very particular reasons and likely knew what they were getting and just as likely knew that reactions were going to be mixed. The choice of the artists and their styles was a message to the viewers just as much as an expression of something the Obama’s wanted to say about themselves.

    People will like it or not. Some may not like it because they aren’t typical posed and safs. I expect that is more like we will see with Trump’s and he will choose a mediocre artist to boot.

  129. 129
    Cheryl from Maryland says:

    Former Smithsonian employee and art historian here. I’m over the moon at these portraits — first of all because of the discussion on this thread. How many portraits just get a “meh,” looks or doesn’t look like the person. The majority of comments are about the symbolism of the portrait, how it speaks about the subject and about their offices, about their position in the world, about the struggle between the private person and the office. That’s what art should do. Second, because so many “official” portraits are no different than portraits from 100 years ago. These are contemporary, but grounded enough in tradition that they will wear well. Finally, because they are redefining what a portrait should be — one commenter brought up Pete DeSouza’s photographs. Painted portraits and photographs have been warring since John Quincy Adams’ image — what is real, what is true, what is a person. I love this; and I’m so happy to read people discussing contemporary art. Congratulations to the Obamas for breaking another barrier.

  130. 130
    Suzanne says:

    @ET: I think the real Time cover with Trump on it had this really interesting photo…..he’s sitting half-turned around in this old chair that looks like a Bergere chair, and the upholstery is frayed and torn, and the colors are these muted blues and grays instead of the red and gold tones we’re used to seeing him with. And he doesn’t look bad at all, but the expression is so fucking telling.

    I don’t know if any of the symbolism was intentional, but damn if I wasn’t more freaked out by that photo than by nearly any other image of him. The photographer did a great job.

  131. 131

    It took me a while but the pictures have been growing on me. They’re unexpected and that’s a good thing.

  132. 132
    lizzy says:

    @jl:@WaterGirl: Thanks for posting this. I’m sort of weeping as I read it. This country throughout its history has laid claim to an open-spiritedness, a welcoming engagement with the world joined to a commitment to the country’s wellbeing. Our leaders don’t always measure up to the challenge. But Michelle and Barack Obama embodied that idea and tried to give it full expression when they were in the White House. The generous, intelligent lovingkindness expressed in that letter is something rare in public life. It distinguished the Obama presidency, and it informs both the portraits.

  133. 133
    cokane says:

    my initial reaction is Barack’s great, it’s both almost photorealistic but obviously also a little surreal with the garden background and it’s a interesting mix. I’m no serious art consumer. Michelle’s is just weirdly striking in that it just doesn’t look that much like her to me. The hairline is just off. But whatevs

  134. 134

    The proportions of her face are wrong. Her forehead is bigger than that and her eyes are too close together. Ultimately it doesn’t look like her enough and the shortened forehead is unattractive because it doesn’t meet the proportions one expects in a human face. If they had gotten that right, it would have been fantastic.

  135. 135
    SFBayAreaGal says:

    I love both of the portraits

  136. 136
    Amir Khalid says:

    I imagine Trump will pick one of those right-wing artists who specialise in jingoistic imagery and simple-minded, painfully obvious symbolism.

  137. 137
    J R in WV says:


    OT but important.
    The Republican immigration bill empowers ICE to deport people without a hearing.

    Well, but we already knew the Republicans were despicable monsters who don’t believe in the rule of law, fairness, nor hearings to determine the applicability of rules and law, etc. Right?

    Not tongue in cheek there, blunt truth about the Republican leadership and the R’s followers.

  138. 138
    Aleta says:

    @Fair Economist: @Suzanne:
    ‘uncomfortable sensation of black bodies in these almost cartoonish environments. To me, that says a great deal about Michelle Obama, and more importantly, how the country regarded Michelle Obama.’

    I experienced FL MO’s portrait differently. I’m not trained in visual art or looking at paintings. So fwiw, I felt some expression of “past, present and future” (Sherald’s words) interacting in Michelle Obama’s face and form. To me, an artist who can do that in a painting of an African American FL = brilliant.

    Secondly, looking at other photos of Amy Sherald’s work as well, I recognized something I knew but don’t usually look at straight on, of how the protection of one’s spirit can show in eyes and faces and body.

    Could be I’m projecting too much onto a woman I don’t actually know, but here goes. FL MO showed me many examples of how one can be in this world. At the time it felt like she taught with more intelligence + grace and kindness than I’d ever been exposed to.

    One big thing we couldn’t help but see was the example of a woman put into a role that’s heavily restricted and criticized for all kind of motives. On top of that were the additions of racism, of centuries of white reaction to black women, and of the high stakes of the kind of social change the Obamas know is needed.

    How could anyone protect one’s spirit from damage. I haven’t seen any of the white FLs do it (no blame for that).

    Anyway, Michelle was a conscious example of not losing her self-protection. She generously showed herself working at it. She taught about its importance.

    I see in Ms. Sherald’s painting the ability to let this, the protection of what is most valuable, show through in different individuals. I’m not used to an artist who can show that, and it amazes me like a treasure that she painted Michelle Obama.

  139. 139
    BC in Illinois says:

    @Tenar Arha:

    Thanks for the heads up on the St Louis Contemporary Art Museum>

    Amy Sherald has an exhibit here May 11 to Aug 19 It’s apparantly her first solo show. .

  140. 140
    Aleta says:

    This also about representation, though not portraits.

    The Bittersweet Beauty of Adam Rippon

    How much an out gay Olympian could mean to a kid now—or to a 34-year-old who’s been waiting for it his whole life.

  141. 141
    WaterGirl says:

    @Aleta: That is a truly lovely and touching article. Thanks for linking to it.

  142. 142
    opiejeanne says:

    @Yutsano: I want to see her in that dress too. For most people, that dress would be wearing them but not Michelle Obama. She can carry that off without any trouble at all.

    I have this odd feeling that I’ve seen her wearing something very like it, but my memory is doing weird things so I’m not at all sure.

  143. 143
    Kay says:


    How could anyone protect one’s spirit from damage. I haven’t seen any of the white FLs do it (no blame for that).
    Anyway, Michelle was a conscious example of not losing her self-protection. She generously showed herself working at it. She taught about its importance.

    This is wonderful Aleta and I think I agree with you. It was amazing, the “I’m not going to be what you think I should be” – there’s real power in that.

  144. 144
    akryan says:

    I know I’m not an art critic, but I know what I like. there is just no way I can get on board with the portrait of MO. the face doesn’t look like her at all, and that corpse grey skin and checkered picnic sheet that she’s wearing are just terrible. It would be more appropriate for Melonia. the portrait of BO is a little better in that it at least is a good likeness of him, but the background takes over the picture. I’m sorry but they just aren’t very good.

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