The Message in Bush’s Art

It is regrettable that George W. Bush’s email privacy was breached, but I must say I really like the former president’s paintings.

I’m no art expert, but I was especially intrigued by their self-reflection and quirky point of view and what New York Magazine’s Jerry Saltz calls “soft, subtle, embracing, even oscillating” light.

But taking this beyond fascinated art observer, I really love what these paintings represent from a life coaching standpoint. They are an indulgence in something creative outside of his livelihood, an embracing of expressing for the sake of expression and nothing else. He didn’t paint to get famous. He didn’t paint to make money. He just followed a desire to paint.

It is an enduring part of my philosophy, almost an obsessive thread running through my work, that more of us need to do this. You know, try something that is outside the realm of our expertise with no fear of failing and just roll with it.

“In filling the well, think magic,” author Julia Cameron writes in her bestseller The Artist’s Way. “Think delight. Think fun. Do not think duty. Do not do what you should do – spiritual sit-ups like reading a dull but recommended critical text. Do what intrigues you, explore what interests you; think mystery, not mastery.”

So often it is people living what they consider routine lives who seek out coaching. They believe there’s more. I am happy, in some cases, to suggest the subtlest of shifts and then watch a life get markedly better. Sure, sometimes it’s about sweeping career changes or hefty projects for my clients, but about half the time it’s about a persistent dissatisfaction. Something is off and it’s usually because the client is ignoring something they love to do or have always wanted to try. They get caught up in tunnel vision living.

In the beginning of the coaching process with clients I like to suggest they do a collage that is a vision for the goals we’ll be working on together. The most wonderful insights come from that exercise because it’s so outside the norm of what most people would consider doing one evening at their dining room table or on the family room floor. Imagine an adult, a stack of magazines over here, a pair of scissors and some tape over there. That activity in itself is sometimes out of their comfort zone because it’s such a throwback to childhood, but eventually it feels almost giddy and the result frequently offers a peek into potential change.

It could be as simple as swapping out the color of a room because the dominant hue of the collage is turquoise; if that makes a person feel good, why isn’t she surrounded by more of it? I’ve had a client fulfill a lifelong dream of a trip to Africa because of my casual observation that he lived an urban life and nothing about his collage was urban. Maybe it’s about surrounding yourself with more fresh flowers or less frill and more streamlining. Or realizing the family business was a nice choice, but to stay sane you must occasionally visit an aquarium or beach because sea creatures soothe you.

One client recently had an image of a beautiful, sophisticated doll on her collage and we talked a little bit about making dolls. I recalled being completely out of sorts when I went to a Creativity Camp over a decade ago with the intent of unblocking my writing and finding out one of our afternoons would be devoted to making a doll. It wasn’t until I saw the box filled with all kinds of materials and accessories that I lit up and joined my fellow campers with fervor. It was exhilarating and liberating and, yes, my writing eventually returned in full force.

Sometimes being pulled out of the stuff we’re normally focused on is the best possible thing. Just for a little while. Just long enough to feel we’re indulging or expressing or escaping or some combination of those.

When I need a break from a writing tear, sometimes I get up from my desk and cook something. Not from a recipe, as I like the creativity involved in just seeing what I can come up with from ingredients on hand. It’s riskier. It gives me such joy to consume the result and when I return to the keyboard and screen I’m nourished and excited to get back to it.

Regardless of your life’s work or focus, this is not just a good idea, it’s essential. Plant a garden even if you feel your thumb is far from green, volunteer at the animal shelter when it makes you nervous to do so, start a blog about your travels or your love of collecting Buddha statues even though you feel you’re just an OK writer. Listen to that little voice that wants to learn how to take better pictures or learn a new language even though it makes you feel like a fool to stammer over the words.

An artist friend once took me to a shop in Chinatown where I picked up paper, paint brushes and paint and then just let myself mess around. It was weird, but good weird. My coffee table books tend toward art, decorating and photography themes because I am an expert in none of them, but it doesn’t stop me from indulging my fascination with them.

So many possibilities, as Cameron would say, to fill the well.

I’ll leave it up to Saltz and his peers to declare that Bush’s paintings belong in the Whitney. For my purposes, I’ll be bringing up his art to my clients when I need to make a point. He was President of the United States. He could have stopped there.

So, yes, there is more.

Nancy Colasurdo is a practicing life coach and freelance writer. Her Web site is and you can follow her on Twitter @nancola. Please direct all questions/comments to