So many meanings, so much paint

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The Official Portrait of Our Previous President has been unveiled and added to the collection at the White House. It’s hideous.

Official Portrait 43

The reason I am bringing it up is not because it’s hideous. There are a number of hideous Official Portraits in the White House. If this is the worst of them, it’s at least close. William J. Clinton is very nearly as bad, or perhaps just a trifle worse. No, the reason Your Humble Blogger brings it up is because on the wall behind the man is his favoritest painting ever. As he said at today’s press conference:

In the portrait, there’s a painting by W.H.D. Koerner called, "A Charge to Keep." It hung in the Oval Office for eight years of my presidency. I asked John to include it, because it reminds me of the wonderful people with whom I was privileged to serve. Whether they served in the Cabinet or on the presidential staff, these men and women -- many of whom are here -- worked hard and served with honor. We had a charge to keep and we kept the charge.

Your Humble Blogger has written before about the entertaining history of the painting. It’s now, I think, a fairly well-known story. Does Our Previous President still not know it? Does he not care?

Somehow, I love the fact that in the official portrait of that man, there is a painting on the wall with such a rich combination of meanings. He thinks the fellow in the painting is keeping his charge, staying on the rocky and steep path. I think the fellow in the painting is moving from town to town, pillaging whatever he can find. Are we both right? Can we both be right? Can one painting illustrate both stories? Does the hymn fall into the non-fiction category, any more than the Saturday Evening Post story it first illustrated?

What does it mean that Our Previous President, such a firm believer in the resolute and fixed, has as a touchstone an item of such conspicuously unfixed meaning? And use it as a touchstone, have it actually work to increase his resolutions and fixations.

This wouldn’t work in fiction, boys. It’s got too damn many levels.

Tolerabimus quod tolerare debemus,

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