Freedom from want

If you say grace tomorrow, you could do worse than thanking God for the four freedoms enumerated by Franklin D. Roosevelt.

Freedom from Want, 1943, Norman Rockwell

I had a painting teacher who hated Norman Rockwell. She was in agreement with the art establishment of her time, which derided him as ‘just an illustrator.’ They also rebelled against his view of America, but that wasn’t what she said. “He has no sense of perspective,” she told me. “He just layers objects to give the illusion of depth.”

For some of his cover art that was true. Consider The Runaway (below), painted for the September 20, 1958 cover of the Saturday Evening Post. It’s just three figures square to the picture plane, surrounded by the horizontal lines and miscellany of the soda shop counter. If that was the only Rockwell painting you ever saw, you could be forgiven for thinking as she did.

The Runaway, 1958, Norman Rockwell

Compare that with Shiner (also below), from the May 23, 1953 cover of the same magazine. The little girl is again square to the picture plane, but there is a second focal point at the top right. They’re tied together by the linoleum. We’re seeing the subject from a kid-height viewpoint. Rockwell understood perspective quite well, thank you.

Freedom from Want was painted during World War II as part of Norman Rockwell’s Four Freedoms series. The series was meant to illustrate a passage from President Franklin Roosevelt’s State of the Union address of January 6, 1941, when Nazi Germany occupied most of Western Europe. The paintings were so idiosyncratically American, however, that they instead have come to represent American values. Freedom from Want is now irrevocably entwined with the American holiday season, which kicks off tomorrow.

The foil for the whole painting is the white-on-white table, surrounded by a wreath of faces. If you’ve ever wondered about Rockwell as a painter, study that table. He’s as brilliant with the whites as Joaquín Sorolla, albeit in a much more American way.

Shiner, 1953, Norman Rockwell

The table is significantly foreshortened and the centerpiece—a fruit bowl—is at the very bottom of the picture. That and the truncated faces at the bottom make you wonder how much longer the table actually is.

This clever cropping make you think you’re looking at a snapshot of someone’s dinner. Of course, you’re not. He painted the figures from life, using his friends and neighbors as models. About the turkey, Rockwell said, “Our cook cooked it, I painted it and we ate it. That was one of the few times I’ve ever eaten the model.”

Note that there’s almost no other food on the table. Such is the magic of his realism that Rockwell makes you believe it’s an overloaded table. In fact, that was the criticism of it at the time, that it depicted indulgence while Europe was starving.

Of course, Thanksgiving is a meal of excess. (I myself plan to make seven pies today.) But if you say grace tomorrow—and I hope you do—you could do worse than thanking God for the four freedoms enumerated by President Roosevelt all those years ago:

Freedom of Speech

Freedom from Want

Freedom from Fear

Freedom of Worship

This was originally published in 2017. Have a very blessed holiday!

Monday Morning Art School: creating depth in your paintings

Paintings with depth engage our minds more and keep us looking longer.

Sunlight on the Coast, 1890, Winslow Homer, courtesy Toledo Museum of Art

Pictorial depth in a painting, is—of course—not real. It’s an illusion, suggested by cues that help the observer translate a 2D image to a 3D space. These cues include shadows, size, and lines that dwindle into the horizon.

Since the human mind is programmed to perceive depth, the artist doesn’t have to work terribly hard to engage his viewer. We can break the tools we use into three distinct approaches, however, and then see how we can move beyond the most obvious into more challenging approaches.

The first is to create receding bands of content. Larger objects create a screen through which we see a layer of smaller objects behind them. The human eye records this as distance. Painterly marks decrease in size along with objects, the farther we travel into the painting.

Tired Salesgirl on Christmas Eve, date unknown, Norman Rockwell, courtesy Christies. This is the acme of layered planes for effect; we don’t even notice that there’s no real perspective.

I had a painting teacher who kvetched that this was all Norman Rockwell ever did, to which I responded that he did it very well for a guy who was churning out weekly magazine covers. I’ll cede the point though. This is the least difficult design concept, and it can prove static, especially when it takes the form of a lonely tree posed against a far hill.

The second method is to establish perspective with lines that move into the distance. This is sometimes simplified into the idea of “a path into the painting.” This may not be a literal path but rather a design armature. In paintings like this, we are seeing over the objects, and they recede into distance, drawing us in with them.

High Surf Along the Laguna Coast, Edgar Payne, before 1947, courtesy Wikimedia Commons

The two paintings above, by Winslow Homer and Edgar Payne, illustrate the difference. Homer has established his design with walls of water and rock, which we’re allowed to peek over. In Payne’s painting, we’re above the roiling surf, and we follow it back into the distance.

For this latter kind of painting to work, the artist must have excellent drawing chops, because the relative sizes of the objects, their placement, their angle, and—above all—the negative shapes, must be spot on. So, if you want to graduate from the first kind of perspective to the second, keep practicing your drawing.

The third kind of perspective is atmospheric. This relies on some general optics rules that are based on the interference of bouncing light and dust in the atmosphere:

  1. Far objects are lower in contrast and generally lighter in color.
  2. Far objects are generally lower in chroma than near objects, because:
  3. Warm colors drop out over distance.

First the reds drop out, next, the yellows drop out, leaving us with blue-violet. Which is how we end up with “purple mountain majesty” as we approach the Rockies, or did, before excessive growth on the Front Range polluted the skies.

Payne Lake, before 1948, Edgar Payne, courtesy Steven Stern Fine Arts

Psychologists have researched the subject of distance perception (of course) and it turns out that depth perception is linked to our higher thinking. That’s no surprise, since visual cues are very basic for survival. From that, we can construe that paintings with depth engage our minds more and keep us looking longer.

Freedom from want

If you say grace tomorrow, you could do worse than thanking God for the four freedoms enumerated by Franklin D. Roosevelt.
Freedom from Want, 1943, Norman Rockwell
I had a painting teacher who hated Norman Rockwell. She was in agreement with the art establishment of her time, which derided him as ‘just an illustrator.’ They also rebelled against his view of America, but that wasn’t what she said. “He has no sense of perspective,” she told me. “He just layers objects to give the illusion of depth.”
For some of his cover art that was true. Consider The Runaway (below), painted for the September 20, 1958 cover of the Saturday Evening Post. It’s just three figures square to the picture plane, surrounded by the horizontal lines and miscellany of the soda shop counter. If that was the only Rockwell painting you ever saw, you could be forgiven for thinking as she did.
Compare that with Shiner (also below), from the May 23, 1953 cover of the same magazine. The little girl is again square to the picture plane, but there is a second focal point at the top right. They’re tied together by the linoleum. We’re seeing the subject from a kid-height viewpoint. Rockwell understood perspective quite well, thank you.
The Runaway, 1958, Norman Rockwell
Freedom from Want was painted during World War II as part of Norman Rockwell’s Four Freedoms series. The series was meant to illustrate a passage from President Franklin Roosevelt’s State of the Union address of January 6, 1941, when Nazi Germany occupied most of Western Europe. The paintings were so idiosyncratically American, however, that they instead have come to represent American values. Freedom from Want is now irrevocably entwined with the American holiday season, which kicks off tomorrow.
The foil for the whole painting is the white-on-white table, surrounded by a wreath of faces. If you’ve ever wondered about Rockwell as a painter, study that table. He’s as brilliant with the whites as Joaquín Sorolla, albeit in a much more American way.
Shiner, 1953, Norman Rockwell
The table is significantly foreshortened and the centerpiece—a fruit bowl—is at the very bottom of the picture. That and the truncated faces at the bottom make you wonder how much longer the table actually is.
This clever cropping make you think you’re looking at a snapshot of someone’s dinner. Of course, you’re not. He painted the figures from life, using his friends and neighbors as models. About the turkey, Rockwell said, “Our cook cooked it, I painted it and we ate it. That was one of the few times I’ve ever eaten the model.”
Note that there’s almost no other food on the table. Such is the magic of his realism that Rockwell makes you believe it’s an overloaded table. In fact, that was the criticism of it at the time, that it depicted indulgence while Europe was starving.
Of course, Thanksgiving is a meal of excess. (I myself plan to make seven pies today.) But if you say grace tomorrow—and I hope you do—you could do worse than thanking God for the four freedoms enumerated by President Roosevelt all those years ago:
Freedom of Speech
Freedom from Want
Freedom from Fear
Freedom of Worship
This was originally published in 2017. Have a very blessed holiday!

Our blessings

Roosevelt called for freedom worldwide. Norman Rockwell’s paintings were so distinctly American, however, that they came to represent us.

Freedom from Want, c. 1941-45, Norman Rockwell, courtesy National Archives at College Park

I had a painting teacher who hated Norman Rockwell. She was in tune with the art establishment of her time, which derided him as ‘just an illustrator.’ In fact, Rockwell understood painting just fine. Very few artists of any time could have balanced the plane of the table in Freedom from Want so elegantly.

Norman Rockwell’s Four Freedoms were meant to illustrate a passage from President Franklin Roosevelt’s State of the Union address of January 6, 1941. Nazi Germany occupied most of Western Europe, and the outlook for western culture looked grim. America was still steadfastly isolationist. Roosevelt exhorted his fellow Americans to think beyond our own borders. His Four Freedoms were universal rights of mankind, and he felt an obligation for America to help preserve them in Europe.
Freedom of Speech, c. 1941-45, Norman Rockwell, courtesy National Archives at College Park
Norman Rockwell’s paintings, however, were so idiosyncratically American that they have come to represent us. Freedom from Want is now irrevocably entwined with the American holiday season, which kicks off tomorrow.
The foil for the whole painting is the white-on-white table, surrounded by a wreath of faces. If you’ve ever wondered about Rockwell’s legacy as a painter, study that table. He’s as brilliant with the whites as Joaquín Sorolla, but in a cooler, more American way.
Freedom of Worship, c. 1941-45, Norman Rockwell, courtesy National Archives at College Park
He painted the figures from life, using his friends and neighbors as models. About the turkey, Rockwell said, “Our cook cooked it, I painted it and we ate it. That was one of the few times I’ve ever eaten the model.”
There’s almost no other food on the table. Such is the magic of his realism that Rockwell makes you believe it’s an overloaded table. In fact, that was the criticism of it at the time, that it depicted indulgence while Europe was starving.
Freedom from Fear, c. 1941-45, Norman Rockwell, courtesy National Archives at College Park
We’re so swamped in bad news that it’s easy to forget how blessed we are. “No famine has ever taken place in the history of the world in a functioning democracy,” wrote Nobel-winning economist Amartya Sen. Americans are particularly blessed with freedom of speech: in 2015, the Pew Research Center polled 38 countries around the world in 2015 and found that Americans are more tolerant of free speech than other nations.
Fear is tough to measure as it’s subjective. However, attacks on American soil have been blessedly few; most of our wounds are self-inflicted. And we are free to worship where we want, and to have lively debates in court and the media when religious rights and other rights intersect.
If you say grace tomorrow, you could do worse than thanking God for the four freedoms enumerated by President Roosevelt all those years ago.
Have a very blessed holiday! (There will be no blog tomorrow.)

The art of rocket science

Space Age art had an important patron: the Federal government.

Toroidal Colonies, pop. 10,000. Cutaway view, exposing the interior, c 1970 by Rick Guidice, courtesy NASA 
We have no shortage of plutocrats today, but Gates, Zuckerberg, et al seem disinterested in public art. Modern American art patronage is largely a group activity. There’s been no greater player than our Federal government, in all its many guises.
The NASA Art Program was responsible for much of our mid-century thinking about Outer Space and its potential. It was launched in 1962, just four years after President Eisenhower established NASA itself. It started prosaically but grew to be an important propaganda arm for the agency. With a huge budget and little practical application to the average voter, NASA needed dreams to justify its existence.
First Steps, 1963, Mitchell Jamieson, Courtesy of the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum
In 1962, artist Bruce Stevenson brought a portrait of space pioneer Alan Shepard to NASA headquarters. Administrator James E. Webb promptly commissioned him to do a group portrait, one that would capture “the team effort and the togetherness that has characterized the first group of astronauts to be trained by this nation.”
Webb was a visionary when it came to art. He proposed, for example, “a nighttime scene showing the great amount of activity involved in the preparation of and countdown for launching,” as well as paintings of life in space. But as an administrator he wanted this program developed systematically. “The important thing is to develop a policy on how we intend to treat this matter now and in the next several years and then to get down to the specifics of how we intend to implement this policy…”
From the Earth to the Moon, 1969, Norman Rockwell, courtesy Look Magazine
The NASA art program would not just record events, it would capture the visceral side of missions, “in a way in which history could look back and fully appreciate all that the agency had achieved.”
In 1963, eight artists were chosen to depict the final Mercury flight. They were paid $800 ($6,567.21 today). The chosen artists ranged from traditional to avant garde.
Meteor and Mars Series 2, c. 1970s, Ren Wicks, courtesy Artnet
“When a launch takes place at Cape Canaveral, Fla., more than 200 cameras record every split second of the activity. Every nut, bolt, miniaturized electronic device is photographed from every angle. The artist can add very little to this in the way of factual record… It is the emotional impact, interpretation and hidden significance of these events which lie within the scope of the artist’s vision. An artist may depict exactly what he thinks he sees, but the image has still gone through the catalyst of his imagination and has been transformed in the process,” National Gallery curator Hereward Lester Cooke wrote in his invitation to these artists.
NASA’s stable included Annie Leibovitz, Robert Rauschenberg and Norman Rockwell, among others. It commissioned original music as well. In 2002, NASA commissioned  Way Up There, which memorialized lives lost in the Challenger disaster. A version by Patti LaBelle was nominated for a Grammy Award.
Toroidal Colonies, pop. 10,000. Interior view, c 1970 by Don Davies, courtesy NASA
Rick Guidice painted for NASA for 15 years. His paintings helped develop a public fantasy of what space colonization might look like. He and some of the other great NASA artists went on to illustrate The High Frontier: Human Colonies in Space, by Princeton Physicist and Professor Dr. Gerard K. O’Neill, which has become a space colonization classic.
From the Seeds of Change… a Discovery, 1984, Robert A. M. Stephens, courtesy NASA
Then came Sen. William Proxmire’s Golden Fleece Awardand its chilling effect on the more fantastical elements of government spending. NASA earned one, not for its art program but for its search for extra-terrestrial life. The age of exuberance in government spending was over. Government agencies may have continued spending as madly as before, but they did it more furtively.

It’s about time for you to consider your summer workshop plans. Join me on the American Eagle, at Acadia National Park, at Rye Art Center, or at Genesee Valley this summer.

Freedom from want

If you say grace tomorrow, you could do worse than thanking God for the four freedoms enumerated by Franklin D. Roosevelt.

Freedom from Want, 1943, Norman Rockwell
I had a painting teacher who hated Norman Rockwell. She was in agreement with the art establishment of her time, which derided him as ‘just an illustrator.’ They also rebelled against his view of America, but that wasn’t what she said. “He has no sense of perspective,” she told me. “He just layers objects to give the illusion of depth.”
For some of his cover art that was true. Consider The Runaway (below), painted for the September 20, 1958 cover of the Saturday Evening Post. It’s just three figures square to the picture plane, surrounded by the horizontal lines and miscellany of the soda shop counter. If that was the only Rockwell painting you ever saw, you could be forgiven for thinking as she did.
The Runaway, 1958, Norman Rockwell.
Compare that with Shiner (also below), from the May 23, 1953 cover of the same magazine. The little girl is again square to the picture plane, but there is a second focal point at the top right. They’re tied together by the linoleum. We’re seeing the subject from a kid-height viewpoint. Rockwell understood perspective quite well, thank you.
Freedom from Want was painted during World War II as part of Norman Rockwell’s Four Freedoms series. The series was meant to illustrate a passage from President Franklin Roosevelt’s State of the Union address of January 6, 1941, when Nazi Germany occupied most of Western Europe. The paintings were so idiosyncratically American, however, that they instead have come to represent American values. Freedom from Want is now irrevocably entwined with the American holiday season, which kicks off tomorrow.
Shiner, 1953, Norman Rockwell.
The foil for the whole painting is the white-on-white table, surrounded by a wreath of faces. If you’ve ever wondered about Rockwell as a painter, study that table. He’s as brilliant with the whites as Joaquín Sorolla, albeit in a much more American way.
The table is significantly foreshortened and the centerpiece—a fruit bowl—is at the very bottom of the picture. That and the truncated faces at the bottom make you wonder how much longer the table actually is.
This clever cropping make you think you’re looking at a snapshot of someone’s dinner. Of course, you’re not. He painted the figures from life, using his friends and neighbors as models. About the turkey, Rockwell said, “Our cook cooked it, I painted it and we ate it. That was one of the few times I’ve ever eaten the model.”
Note that there’s almost no other food on the table. Such is the magic of his realism that Rockwell makes you believe it’s an overloaded table. In fact, that was the criticism of it at the time, that it depicted indulgence while Europe was starving.
Of course, Thanksgiving is a meal of excess. (I myself plan to make seven pies today.) But if you say grace tomorrow—and I hope you do—you could do worse than thanking God for the four freedoms enumerated by President Roosevelt all those years ago:
  • Freedom of Speech
  • Freedom from Want
  • Freedom from Fear
  • Freedom of Worship

Have a very blessed holiday!

Dedicated followers of fashion

Selling two Norman Rockwell paintings isn’t going to fix the Berkshire Museum’s woes.
Shuffleton’s Barbershop, 1950, by Norman Rockwell, is expected to net $20-30 million.
Growing up in the Rust Belt, I’ve seen the sad effect of poverty on cultural institutions. The Milestones of Science was a collection of rare manuscripts by American scientists, assembled by the Buffalo Museum of Sciencein the 1930s. By 1994, the museum was skint. A trade was devised with the Buffalo and Erie County Public Library. The library would get The Milestonesin exchange for a Birds of America folio by John James Audubon. That would then be sold.
The resulting uproar wasn’t just about the Audubon leaving Buffalo; it was about the inevitable fate of those folios when they leave museums: they get separated and sold plate-by-plate to rich collectors.
In 2013, Detroit tried to sell works from the Detroit Institute of Art to pull the city out of debt. The Attorney General stopped the sale.
To choose between essential city services and one’s art museum, or between branch libraries and a rare book, is not easy. I have great sympathy for the people forced into these situations.
Giant Redwood Trees of California, 1874, by Albert Bierstadt, is expected to net $1.5-2.5 million.
But there’s another situation in which museums sell art. That’s when the trustees are jonesing for expansion or change. In 2007, the Albright-Knox Art Gallery sent more than 100 antiquities to Sotheby’s for auction. These were works of Chinese, African, Indian, South American and ancient Roman provenance, and the trustees needed the money to buy more contemporary art. It happened in 2014, when the Delaware Art Museum flogged paintings by Winslow Homer and Andrew Wyeth to get out of the hole from its 2005 expansion.
The latest museum to propose this is the Berkshire Museum in Pittsfield, MA. It plans to auction off twenty pieces, including works by Norman Rockwell, Alexander Calder, Albert Bierstadt, and George Henry Durrie. Their $60 million “reinvention plan” involves “the creation of an exciting new interdisciplinary Museum, with a heightened emphasis on science and history,” as well as “a bold financial strategy” to shore up the museum’s tottering finances.
First, someone shoot that copywriter.
Reading between the lines, it sounds like they want to make a miniature version of Rochester’s Strong Museum of Play or the Ontario Science Centre. These started as museums but are now kiddie entertainment centers.
“Two of the works the Museum is currently planning to sell are important paintings by Norman Rockwell, given by the artist to the people of Pittsfield. These works were entrusted by Rockwell to the Museum for safe-keeping and to share with the public. The other works proposed for sale are by many noted artists from America and around the world. If these works are indeed sold, it would be an irredeemable loss for the present and for generations to come,” wrote the American Alliance of Museums and the Association of Art Museum Directors.
Blacksmith’s Boy—Heel and Toe, 1970, by Norman Rockwell, is expected to fetch $7-10 million
The Rockwell family has noted that Shuffleton’s Barbershipwas received by the museum in 1958 as a gift from the artist for their “permanent collection.”
Sometimes it seems like the custodians of our cultural treasures have a pessimistic view of the public they serve. We’re not all fixated on entertainment. A failing museum may blame changing public tastes, but that probably isn’t their problem. It might be terrible lighting, a lack of good programming, bad ventilation, lousy interpretation, or any of a whole host of things that can mar the museum experience. These don’t require reinvention, and they don’t cost a fortune to fix.
The Berkshire Museum is located in a region of fine museums, including MASS MoCA, the Clark Art Institute, and the Norman Rockwell Museum. They ought to be able to draw visitors from a wide regional pool. If they’re not, the problem isn’t the founders’ vision, it’s the current management.

Taking up painting after retirement

Yesterday I wrote about painters who continued working into their dotage. Today, I give you an example of one who didn’t even start until after most of her peers were dead.

Hoosick Falls, New York, In Winter, 1944, Grandma Moses
“The examples you gave yesterday are of people who have painted their whole lives,” a reader wrote. “I won’t have time to learn to paint until I retire. Do you think that is also true for people who take up painting at a later age?”
Leaving aside the idea that other work makes painting impossible (it doesn’t), we have a great example in Anna Mary Robertson “Grandma” Moses. She was born in 1860 in Greenwich, New York. She died in 1961 in Hoosick Falls, which is about twenty miles south. She had given birth to ten children, five of whom survived. She and her husband subsisted as small farmers, making much of what they had and doing without. From our 21stcentury viewpoint, her life was hard and limited in scope.
Wash Day, 1945, Grandma Moses
Still, that band of land from Greenwich to Hoosick Falls is arguably New York’s most sublime landscape, a region of soft rolling hills, fertile fields and pretty, old farmhouses. The other place where she lived for two decades, Staunton, Virginia, is in the Shenandoah Valley. It could be described exactly the same way. Both are places where rich urbanites come to vacation and appreciate the beauties of nature, but where the locals struggle to keep the house painted.

Grandma Moses did not take up painting until she was 78, but she showed an inclination toward art for her whole life. She had rudimentary art lessons in the one-room schoolhouse she attended (now the Bennington Museum in Vermont), and access to art supplies from the family who hired her as a farm hand at the age of twelve.
Mt. Nebo On The Hill, crewel embroidery, 1940, Grandma Moses
She produced quilts, dolls, and much crewel embroidery. Her unique painting style resonates with the values of her needlework, which in turn was influenced by the Currier & Ives lithographs of her childhood. Long before she was a painter, she was embroidering landscape paintings of her own design. In fact, she only took up painting when arthritis made holding a needle too difficult.  
Moses was discovered by art collector Louis Caldor, who saw her work in the window of Thomas’ Drug Store in Hoosick Falls. Three of the paintings he bought were then included in the Contemporary Unknown American Painters exhibition at The Museum of Modern Art in New York in 1939. Two one-woman New York shows immediately followed. This began Moses’s meteoric rise in the art world. By 1943, there was an overwhelming demand for her paintings. 
Photo is labelled on reverse: “Mrs. Thomas and Grandma Moses her paintings were displayed in Mrs. Thomas drug store Hoosick Falls, N.Y. that’s how she was discovered A man came by bought all paintings at $1.00 each.” c. 1940 (Courtesy Hoosick Falls Past and Present Facebook page)
Her homespun viewpoint contrasted sharply with the abstract-expressionist Zeitgeist of post-war intellectual America. She was popular for all the same reasons her friend Norman Rockwell was popular. By the middle of the 20th century, there was a noticeable split between the cognoscenti and the middle classes in terms of values and mores. It has only become wider and deeper today.
Most of Grandma Moses’s paintings were done on cardboard and are relatively small. She painted her scenes first, and then inserted figures going about the daily work of farm life. She didn’t draw from life or photographs, but from her own fertile imagination. Because of this, her paintings are reminiscent of the Labours of the Seasons from medieval Books of Hours.
Country Fair, 1950, Grandma Moses
She belongs in the pantheon of naïve painters because she was self-taught, but to say that she was in any way primitive is risible, considering what has followed in the art world.

The Greatest Painter Who Never Lived

The Facts of Life, Norman Rockwell

It’s a sad fact that in the United States one can defame the reputation of a dead person with impunity and his or her loved ones and heirs can do nothing to stop it. Such is the case with Deborah Solomon’s American Mirror: the Life and Art of Norman Rockwell, which characterizes Rockwell as a complex, depressed, repressed gay man whose repression led to pedophiliac urges expressed in his paintings.

A Scout is Helpful, 1941, Norman Rockwell
A nice person—one not looking for duplicity everywhere—would agree with Rockwell’s granddaughter’s assessment: “My grandfather was a charming, kind, generous man; his models, without exception, say that posing for him was one of the highlights of their lives. He had a marvelous sense of humor, was a remarkable observer of people and human behavior…” 
Rockwell was a fantastically successful illustrator because his ear was perfectly tuned to the 20th century zeitgeist, which celebrated work, home, family and children. Of course, Deborah Solomon is in perfect tune with the zeitgeist of our times, which holds that there is nothing good in this world. Nor is there any privacy, apparently. 
The Babysitter, 1927, Norman Rockwell
Abigail Rockwell has done an excellent job of debunking Solomon’s sources, but she gets little traction in modern media, because she—unfortunately—is working at cross-purposes to our modern world. We like knowing that others are ‘no better than they should be.’
Rosie the Riveter, 1943, by Norman Rockwell. Of this iconic painting, Solomon said, “You know who else is masturbating? Rosie the Riveter. Women to him [Rockwell] were sexual demons. Over here, the riveting-gun penis on her lap, and in the background these pulsating red waves. Even though she’s a worker she’s not working, she’s just eating and satisfying her desires.”
But why is it being gay is so frequently the ‘secret sin’ of which artists are accused? (For a start, see Caravaggio, Michelangelo, and Leonardo Da Vinci; never mind that their culture cannot be transcribed literally into our culture.) And why did a publisher like Farrar, Straus and Giroux publish an outrageous, unsubstantiated claim of a putative link between homosexuality and pedophilia? If that had come from the Right, the howling would have been deafening.

Let me know if you’re interested in painting with me on the Schoodic Peninsula in beautiful Acadia National Park in 2015 or Rochester at any time. Click here for more information on my Maine workshops! Download a brochure here. 

Libeling the dead

Southern Justice (Murder in Mississippi), 1965, Norman Rockwell
In America, the dead can’t sue for defamation, so a writer who makes outrageous statements about the deceased can’t be touched in a court of law. In the past, we were protected by an unspoken code of decency: a publishing house like Farrar, Straus and Giroux would not have taken a biography like American Mirror, and it wouldn’t be nominatedfor a PEN award.
Saying Grace, 1951, Norman Rockwell
“The thrill of [Norman Rockwell’s] work is that he was able to use a commercial form to thrash out his private obsessions,” writes author Deborah Solomon. And what, according to Solomon, were those obsessions? That he was a repressed homosexual with pedophilic impulses.
Rosie the Riveter, 1943, Norman Rockwell
Rockwell’s granddaughter Abigail did a great job debunking Solomon’s book in this column, and it’s worth reading in its entirety.
I once made the mistake of mentioning to an instructor in Manhattan that I love Norman Rockwell’s work. That was the first experience I had of the animus some intellectuals direct toward Rockwell, who—as a ‘mere’ illustrator—achieved fame and fortune most of us can only dream about.
The Scoutmaster, 1956, Norman Rockwell
Why is it that men who paint children are suspect? A decade ago, we saw the samephenomenon with Caravaggio. It’s now received wisdom that he was a bisexual pederast—a theory that totally ignores the painterly and social conventions of his time, and is almost purely speculative (since there is very little historical record of his life). This desire to tear down icons reflects less on the artists in question than on the art world’s deeply rooted sexism and its own twisted desires.
Freedom from Fear (one of the Four Freedoms series), 1943, Norman Rockwell
Norman Rockwell is being accused of pedophilia at the same time as other intellectuals attempt to destigmatizethat perversion. This is part of the vast value-leveling going on in our society today, an insistence that no ideals or values deserve to be elevated above others. By making Rockwell look tawdry, we can dismiss all those hokey mid-century values he painted: family, patriotism, courage, equality, freedom, faith.


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