Artistic presidents seem like an oxymoron, and for the most part, it is. However, there are acceptions to the rule. Not all of the commanders in chief are completely “left-brained.” Throughout the history of the United States, many presidents have expressed a big interest in the arts, but just over a handful have actually dabbled in creating their own (as far as we know).
These painting and poetic presidents hail from the left and the right, sharing a common ground through the stroke of a brush or the flow of a good haiku. These are the presidents who were artists, and how Donald Trump compares.
1. Dwight D. Eisenhower
The 34th President of the United States, Dwight D. Eisenhower served as the Commander in Chief from 1953 to 1961. Yet it was not until much later in his life that he discovered his love for painting. This love came by way of watching Thomas E. Stephens paint a portrait of his wife Mamie back in 1958. Later, Stephens sent him his own painting kit. Eisenhower accepted the challenge and went on to produce around 250 paintings. The works of art were even on exhibition in 1967 at the Huntington Hartford Museum in New York.
Next: This democratic president loved was a painter and a woodworker.
2. Jimmy Carter
Democratic President Jimmy Carter held down the White House from 1977 to 1981, enjoying painting, poetry, and the craft of working with wood before, during, and after his term. Carter was so dedicated to the arts that he established the Carter Center at Emory University as a launching pad for all things related to human rights. The Carter Center regularly hosts auctions where Carter’s art is sold to benefit the foundation. One of his paintings managed to fetch $250,000.
Next: If it wasn’t for an internet hacker, the world may not have known of this president’s artwork.
3. George W. Bush
The younger of the Bush presidents, George W. Bush has a knack for painting animals — mostly dogs. But the world may have gone without knowing of the 43rd Republican president’s talents with the paintbrush, had it not been for “Guccifer,” the internet hacker. After discovering photos of Bush’s art in an email account, word quickly traveled in regards to the president’s hobby. Bush has ventured away from canine portraits but continues to dabble in still life, landscapes, and (ahem) nude self-portraits.
Next: Artist first, president second
4. Ulysses S. Grant
Hailing as the 18th President of the United States, Republican Ulysses S. Grant fell in love with painting well before he started his political career. In 1840 at just 18 years old, Grant gifted his at-the-time girlfriend a beautiful and impressive watercolor landscape painting. The advanced nature of his work is largely due to being a student of artist Robert Walter Weir. The military rankings came much later.
Next: Close ties to Robert Frost harnessed this president’s affection for words.
5. John F. Kennedy
Reigning as president from 1961 until his assassination in 1963, John F. Kennedy’s spoken word seemed to eloquently flow to the American people, but much of that was because of his love for poetry and his relationship with Robert Frost. The respect that Kennedy had for poetry shined through when he spoke at the Robert Frost Library opening at Amherst College in 1963:
When power leads man to arrogance, poetry reminds him of his limitations. When power narrows the areas of man’s concern, poetry reminds him of the richness and diversity of this existence. When power corrupts, poetry cleanses. For art establishes the basic human truth which must serve as the touchstone of our judgment.
Next: A revered president who enjoyed the pen and paper
6. Abraham Lincoln
Between the Emancipation Proclamation and the Gettysburg Address, Abraham Lincoln stands to be on the greatest presidents in history. His opposition to slavery and its eventual abolishment made him loved by many, as well as hated by others. Nevertheless, Lincoln’s succinct words lent themselves perfectly to poetry. His more well-known work My Childhood Home I See Again and To Rosa remain loved pieces. Here is To Rosa:
You are young, and I am older;You are hopeful, I am not—Enjoy life, ere it grow colder—Pluck the roses ere they rot.Teach your beau to heed the lay—That sunshine soon is lost in shade—That now’s as good as any day—To take thee, Rosa, ere she fade.
Next: Here’s how President Trump stacks up to other artistic presidents.
7. Donald Trump
Unbeknownst to the masses, the real estate mogul turned reality TV star turned 45th President of the United States has sold a piece of artwork. It’s true. But rest assured that this piece is far from a skilled Grant watercolor painting. Back in the 90s, Trump used a black marker to sketch out a somewhat elementary version of the Empire State building, which fetched $100 in at an auction in Florida in 1995. Strangely enough, another real estate mogul purchased the sketch for the original owner for $16,000.