Presidential Arts

John Quincy Adams played the flute; Thomas Jefferson, the violin.  How many other of our country’s commanders-in-chief had more than a passing interest in fine arts?

Ulysses Grant displayed talent as early as age eighteen, when he painted the landscape below.  Other works show Indians and horses in great detail.
Painting by U. S. Grant

The banjo was Chester Arthur’s instrument of choice, while Calvin Coolidge and Ronald Reagan liked to play the harmonica.  Harry Truman was recorded and shown on the new medium of television:

Dwight D. Eisenhower took up landscape painting, but gave a disclaimer as noted under the picture below. “They would have burned this ____ painting if I wasn’t President of the United States.” 

In addition to being an accordion player, Richard Nixon was accomplished in composing for and playing the piano.  These facts, as well as his breakthrough visit to China, have been obliterated by what happened at the end of his presidency.

Bill Clinton gave a popular performance on his saxophone on the Arsenio Hall show in 1992.

Former presidents Jimmy Carter and George W. Bush have benefited charities with the sale of their paintings.
Self-portrait painting by President George W. Bush. Photo by Grant Miller.

Our current chief executive doesn’t do a bad job singing about his hometown, either.  And while some have admitted they didn’t themselves possess the ability (Edith Roosevelt said dryly, “We play the Victrola”), she and Theodore, as well as John and Jaqueline Kennedy, invited legends to perform for musical soires at the White House.  Pablo Cassals played the cello for both first families sixty years apart.

Gerald Ford said, “The future of our nation depends on providing our children with a complete education that includes music.”   George Washington was first in noting the importance of the Arts and Sciences to “the prosperity of the State and to the ornament of human life…”

Legislators need to take a hint from our leaders, who know firsthand that art and music have been neither optional nor inconsequential for Americans, young and old.


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