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Opinion On Hunter Biden’s art, let’s look at the bigger picture

Hunter Biden walks to Marine One on the Ellipse outside the White House on May 22. (BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP via Getty Images)
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Hunter Biden, the budding artist, is never going to be Jackson Pollock or Edward Hopper. He probably isn’t Dennis Hopper, for that matter.

That doesn’t make him an influence-peddler hiding behind an easel, however. And ethical conflicts, like modern art, are best viewed with some perspective.

In case you missed the brouhaha here, the president’s 51-year-old son, whose shady business dealings have long been the subject of scrutiny, is now being represented by a SoHo gallery owner who expects to sell some of Hunter Biden’s abstract paintings for hundreds of thousands of dollars. The White House has said the identity of the buyers won’t be disclosed, so that neither Hunter Biden nor his father can be unduly influenced by big-spending art patrons who might see some benefit in funneling money to the president’s son.

That hasn’t done much to satisfy the ethical watchdogs on either side of the political divide, however, who worry that foreign governments or powerful interests are going to shell out half a million bucks for the younger Biden’s yellow flowers.

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“The whole thing is a really bad idea,” Richard Painter, who was George W. Bush’s ethics chief, told The Post’s Matt Viser.

Walter Shaub, who held the same job for President Barack Obama and was a sharp critic of the Trump administration, summed it up this way: “What these people are paying for is Hunter Biden’s last name.”

Well, all right. I agree with Shaub that it would be better if we did learn the identity of Hunter Biden’s buyers and could therefore see any potential conflicts for ourselves. Keeping things secret rarely reassures anyone.

But before we all start in with the Billy Carter and Roger Clinton comparisons (too late, I guess), let’s put this in some context.

First, it’s worth noting that there is really no objective value to anybody’s art, other than what the market is willing to pay for it. If Hunter Biden’s name means his paintings are worth 100 times more than mine might be (and, really, I can’t draw any flower that doesn’t look like a space alien wearing a bonnet), how does that make him nefarious, or his work artificially valued?

Bear in mind that someone recently paid $1.3 million for the “digital token” of a single gray pixel. So it’s not the like the art world normally operates on some rational basis.

Bear in mind, also, that half of the loudmouths bashing Hunter Biden on cable TV have been paid six figures for writing barely literate books. They’re the last people who should be shocked to find out that notoriety creates value.

Second, while I’m no master of creating influence schemes, I’m having a hard time envisioning the scenario in which Hunter Biden’s art show leads to a repeat of Teapot Dome. How exactly is this supposed to go?

Mr. President, we discussed the need for these Russia sanctions months ago, after they took down half the country’s electric grid.”

“I know, Kamala. It’s just … well, that oligarch bought Hunter’s little picture of interlocking circles. He paid $300,000! Can’t we just look the other way?”

Even if there weren’t anonymity, does anyone really think President Biden wouldn’t be more inclined, rather than less, to crack down on a foreign actor who tried to brazenly buy him off by overpaying for his son’s paintings?

Lastly, though, and most to the point, let’s remember that we just emerged from a four-year nightmare in which the president of the United States installed as effective prime ministers his completely unqualified daughter and son-in-law, both of whom continued to profit from their family business for the entire term. (As did the president himself, raking in money from the foreign dignitaries — not to mention government bodyguards — who stayed at his hotels.)

Even Biden’s decision to hire several of his top aides’ children for jobs in the administration seems more problematic than his son’s latest career turn.

I’m not saying we shouldn’t care about Hunter Biden’s issues simply because other things are worse.

No, my point is that when you jump up and down screaming over every potential conflict, without trying to distinguish between the egregious and the merely distasteful, you run the risk that the voters will inevitably decide the whole system is just hopelessly corrupt. And then they’ll tune you out.

In this case, we’d all do better to register modest concern and then move on, if for no other reason than, in the big picture, the potential ethical crisis is probably much like Hunter Biden’s artwork itself: inflated and ultimately minor.

Read more:

Read a letter in response to this piece: The art of presidential ethics

Meghan Kruger: Sneak Preview! Paintings from the Hunter Biden Art Show.

The Post’s View: The White House gets the Hunter Biden ethical challenge exactly wrong

Karen Tumulty: Hunter Biden is going about his art career all wrong

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