PHOTOS: The official portrait of premier Dave Hancock, second-to-last Progressive Conservative premier of Alberta, will not likely look like this, although one could make a strong case it really should. After all, consider what Mr. Hancock was left to deal with by his predecessor, Alison Redford, whose official portrait is shown below at right. Above her at left: The real Mr. Hancock. Below her: A detail from Social Credit premier Harry Strom’s portrait and the author of this blog with his official portrait. If nothing changes and some present or future premier is looking for an artist willing to go bravely where official portraitists have not gone before, I will be happy to provide contact information for the Alberta artist, Ryn Climenhaga.
“You will always be fond of me. I represent to you all the sins you never had the courage to commit.”
― Oscar Wilde, The Picture of Dorian Gray
As predicted in this space three years ago, it was only a matter of time before we Albertans had added to our premier provincial collection new portraits of first ministers Alison Redford and Dave Hancock.
Just before the close of business on Monday, the official portrait of Mr. Hancock, the second-to-last Progressive Conservative premier of Alberta, will join the distinguished company – or the rogues’ gallery, if you prefer – on the now increasingly crowded walls of the Legislature Building.
We await the hanging with great hope, as well as a certain amount of trepidation.
Oscar Wilde, the 19th Century author and bon vivant quoted at the beginning of this piece also observed in The Picture of Dorian Gray – a rather good yarn about a portrait with a life of its own, which contains many observations apropos to the 21st Century – that “nowadays people know the price of everything and the value of nothing.”
However, as was said here not so long ago on the occasion of the hanging of Ms. Redford’s image, if we ask why we are spending that amount of public money on portraits of premiers (and Legislative Speakers, too, it must be added) we are asking the wrong question.
The question we Albertans should be trying to answer is not why we are paying for portraits of politicians, or how much we are paying, but why the results we have been getting lately, are not, shall we say, more inspiring.
In fact, we’ve been paying too much and not paying enough at once for these artworks. That is, we’re paying too much for art that’s not very good, and we’re not paying enough for art that’s worth publicly supporting. This is proof of the axiom that in Alberta politics you really can have it all, though not necessarily in a good way.
Things have been mostly going downhill since, however – perhaps because of the lamentable tendency of modern portrait painters to work from photographs, or perhaps because of the choices exercised by departing premiers, who are self-evidently mostly not experts in the arts.
Mr. Hancock may be different. With his choice yet to be unveiled, one can be forgiven for praying the man who was premier for only 176 days will also be the former premier bold enough to give us a portrait worthy both of praise and our investment.
The artist will be Tom Menczel, and we should not prejudge his work. The cost has not yet been officially revealed.
Regardless of the success of Mr. Hancock’s artistic choice, as the owners of these portraits, Albertans need to do better more consistently. The first step should be to stop letting the premiers pick their own artists if they’re going to use public money for their portraits.
So the time has come to let the departing premier pick his or her portraitist from a selection of qualified artists chosen by a jury of people at least vaguely capable of making such choices.
It’s true that such juries tend to be too cautious – which is why a selection of artists with the final call made by the subject of the portrait would inject an interestingly unpredictable element into the mix.
But public support for the arts is too important, and public paintings of premiers are also too important, to merely be left to the whim their subjects.
Thus endeth the art lesson. Almost. One further thing needs to be considered. We have been going through an awful lot of premiers lately in Alberta. It is the view here at AlbertaPolitics.ca that we should slow down and keep the one we have, Rachel Notley of the NDP, longer than a single term.
That would give us time to figure out where to display future premiers’ portraits, now that the third floor of the Rotunda is full.
It would have the additional benefit of ensuring several more years of good government and sound policy-making as well.
This post also appears on Rabble.ca.