July 1, 2010

Norman Rockwell

Norman Rockwell, painter of hundreds of Saturday Evening Post covers, was long derided as an artistic dead end because he had so little influence on subsequent celebrity painters. But that always struck me as stupid because Rockwell was hugely influential on one of the most influential cultural figures of the later 20th Century, Steven Spielberg, who mostly paid for the Rockwell museum in Massachusetts. 

That Rockwell didn't have much impact on subsequent painters just shows that painting was becoming a minor art due to technological advance. Rockwell operated much like a modern filmmaker, holding auditions for models and having his staff construct sets and assemble props. If he'd been born a couple of generations later, he might well have become a movie director.

It turns out that George Lucas owns even more Rockwells than Spielberg does. Together, they are mounting an exhibit at the Smithsonian: "Telling Stories: Norman Rockwell From the Collections of George Lucas and Steven Spielberg." 

If your followers include Spielberg and Lucas, your influence lives on.

28 comments:

Garland said...

Wow, those are good paintings.

agnostic said...

The death of painting can't be due to technological advance because *all* of the higher arts went crazy, and all about the same time.

Novels and poetry went psycho, yet there was no more realistic replacement of them as there plausibly was in the case of photography vs. painting. This was the era of limited movies, and silent narrative-less ones at that. TV wasn't even there, nor video games.

Same with classical music. It's hard to see what the counterpart of photography would be there.

Technological advance could partially explain the decline of painting, but when we look at all the arts, it can't be that because the fall was so widespread and so simultaneous. The cause has to apply to the arts as a whole, not just painting.

Anonymous said...

If only ironic post-modern references to American Gothic and nothing else count, then Rockwell is doing OK.

Thursday said...

Make no mistake about it, Rockwell painted some pretty awful dreck in his time and the fact that the dreck was frequently among his most popular and widely reproduced work meant that his reputation for painting a lot of crap was well deserved. I have to say a good number of those paintings in the the NYT article are just plain terrible.

But he did also paint some really good works and he mostly deserves his current rehabilitation.

dearieme said...

"The cause has to apply to the arts as a whole, not just painting." The cause was the First World War.

Dennis Mangan said...

Spielberg, Lucas, and Rockwell all operate on the same level of emotion, one that is ultimately kitsch. Technically dazzling, emotionally simplistic.

Melykin said...

I like Norman Rockwell. I don't care if he is considered common or low-brow.

Steven Pinker writes about modern art in The Blank Slate. He says people went astray at the beginning of the 20th century and started producing art, music, literature etc. that most people find ugly and annoying.

We can keep this ugly sh*t out of our homes, but it is amazing how much ugly public art and architecture there is around. One university I attended was designed by a famous architect. The place has all the charm of a concrete bunker or a nuclear power plant. Then there are the sculptures that look like a giant piles of dog sh*t or piles of random scrap metal.

Here is a funny video that mocks atonal music.

asdfasdfsadf said...

Rockwell was to painting what Capra was to moviemaking. But Capra has a dark side, something lacking in Rockwell paintings.

asdfasdfasdf said...

I suppose given the fact that postmodernism is about one artform bleeding into another--installation art combining painting, fine arts, video, etc--, it might be significant if Rockwell impacted other art forms.

Mr. Anon said...

"Dennis Mangan said...

Spielberg, Lucas, and Rockwell all operate on the same level of emotion, one that is ultimately kitsch. Technically dazzling, emotionally simplistic."

I agree in regards to Lucas - I'm not even sure if his work could be considered dazzling anymore. His last three movies were just ennervating and insipid. I'm not even sure if they rise to the level of kitsch, more like just dreck. A good moviemaker makes you want to look at the screen - Lucas just makes you want to look at your watch ("Is this crap over yet? Can I go?" - I feel the same way about Peter Jackson). I think he only had two good movies in him - "Star Wars" and "American Graffitti" - and after that, he was done. He seems to think of himself as some kind of great poet of modern film, when actually he's just an action-figure marketer with an extensive ad campaign focussed on movie theaters.

But I will defend Spielberg. I agree, sometimes he tends towards kitsch (sometimes consciously I think). But at the same time, I deem him to be the most sophisticated and expert director working today (and one of the best ever). "Schindler's List" was mostly unkitschy (except for the very end) - when I first saw it, I couldn't believe it was even a Spielberg movie. And - unlike many directors today - he has the eye of a cinematographer and understands that movies are primarily a visual medium and that they must look interesting, as indeed most of his recent films do. It's true he hasn't made as many really great movies as a great director should have made (in my opinion he's only made two great movies - "Schindlers List" and "Jaws"), but even a lot of his not great movies were still pretty good ("Raiders of the Lost Ark", "Saving Private Ryan", "Minority Report", "Catch Me If You Can", "Empire of the Sun").

sadasdfasdf said...

The rustic scenes in Saving Private Ryan--the farm of Ryans family--is part Rockwellish, part Wyethism, part whateverelse-ish.

dsfsafasdfa said...

Rockwellism is also found in magazine covers--illustrated or photographic--and in political iconography.


And to the extent that popular culture is taken seriously by intellectuals, advertising and holiday cards.

And lots of talk shows have a kind of uh-goshy Rockwellishness.

As does talk radio when it isn't so nasty.

Anonymous said...

"@dearieme said..."The cause has to apply to the arts as a whole, not just painting." The cause was the First World War."

No. It had started before the First World War. The First World War is just a convenient boundary marker. The First World War is also a convenient excuse, but that is confusing a symptom for the disease.

Anonymous said...

actually 'set building' goes back to the rennaissance- maquettes - which were constructed to figure out light problems - historic painters and orientalist painters were reknown for having 'props' (old armor, swords) in their studios.

As for Rockwell's influence- he's influenced hundreds if not thousands of painters - he went through the atelier system @ the art student's league (NY, still in operation today) where artistic traditions are handed down from master to student.

But rockwell never had an atlier of his own - and didn't do much teaching except a rather embarassing pitch for teh 'famous artist school' (still in operation!) but nor did Sargent.

Anonymous said...

?Technological advance could partially explain the decline of painting?"
actually realist painters look at technology as a help, not hurt- for example here is a book on rocwell's use of photgraphy:

http://www.npr.org/blogs/pictureshow/2009/11/rockwell.html

Garland - you should see the originals (norman rockwell musuem, stockbridge) they are far better than the repos)

Anonymous said...

"If only ironic post-modern references to American Gothic and nothing else count, then Rockwell is doing OK."

Well, except that he didn't paint that.

EdwardS said...

Because of postmodernism, academics are very willing to take Rockwell seriously, even if the glitterati of art dealers, galleries aren't.

Jennifer A. Greenhill, "The View from Outside: Rockwell and Race in 1950"
http://www.journals.uchicago.edu/doi/abs/10.1086/521890

Alexander Nemerov, "Coming Home in 1945: Reading Robert Frost and Norman Rockwell"
http://www.journals.uchicago.edu/doi/abs/10.1086/424790

Rockwell had an exhibition at the Guggenheim in 2001 which was reviewed in Artforum:

http://findarticles.com/p/articles/mi_m0268/is_9_40/ai_86647187/

asdfasdfasdf said...

"I think he only had two good movies in him - "Star Wars" and "American Graffitti" - and after that, he was done."

Bullshit. His best film was THX 1138. And Attack of the Clones was the best of the Star Wars series, a magnificent display of rock concert special effects Wowsa.

asdfasdfsdf said...

"Spielberg, Lucas, and Rockwell all operate on the same level of emotion, one that is ultimately kitsch. Technically dazzling, emotionally simplistic."

Rockwell technically dazzling? Hardly. He was technically predictable and ultra-conventional.

PS. Did anyone read an idiotic piece by Kurtagic about how some Slavo-Viking painting is more inspirational than the one by Rockwell?
Kurtagic is surely the trashiest idiot on the alt right.

Anonymous said...

"Rockwellism is also found in magazine covers--illustrated or photographic--and in political iconography."

Rockwell NEVER considered himself an artist, great or otherwise. He was first and foremost an ILLUSTRATOR of MAGAZINE COVERS. How quickly we forget . . .

Mr. Anon said...

asdfasdfasdf said...

""I think he only had two good movies in him - "Star Wars" and "American Graffitti" - and after that, he was done.""

Bullshit. His best film was THX 1138. And Attack of the Clones was the best of the Star Wars series, a magnificent display of rock concert special effects Wowsa.

Yeah, I forgot about THX 1138 - a very early 70s sort of dystopian film - largely because it was excrutiatingly dull.

I have to say that if you liked "Attack of the Clones" then you're just about a minority of one for anyone over the age of ten. I never saw the movie myself - I only saw the action figures. And I don't recognize a "Star Wars" series. There was a movie called "Star Wars" which was a fun kids movie, but when Lucas retroactively renamed it and called it the 4th in a series, I stopped paying any attention to him.

Lucille said...

How was that "retroactive"? It was always referred to as "Episode 4." Did you ever watch the opening sequence?

Anonymous said...

Rockwell was excellent, Wyeth was even better. The dislike non-Christians have for both men is interesting. They don't seem to value beauty or heartfelt emotion for its own sake but need something complex (or very simple) so they can discuss it in a lengthy, wordy essay. This allows them to engage in poltics or sociological perspective, Hence, they prefer Pop Art or modern art.

Accordingly, I'm surprised Speilberg likes him.

Reg Cæsar said...

Rockwell shares a rare distinction with Samuel P Huntington: both are New York City boys of Yankee stock. Not many of those anymore!

Mr. Anon said...

"Lucille said...

How was that "retroactive"? It was always referred to as "Episode 4." Did you ever watch the opening sequence?"

Yes, I did see the opening sequence - in all it's 70 millimeter glory, at the Coronet Theater in San Francisco, in 1977. And at that time there was no "Episode 4" and no "A New Hope". It was just "Star Wars".

Udolpho.com said...

Why am I not surprised that those two hacks would have stashes of Rockwell's kitsch art?

Mercer said...

The post today has a remarkable piece about the exhibit. An excerpt:

"This country is about a game-changing guarantee that equal room will be made for Latino socialists, disgruntled lesbian spinsters, foul-mouthed Jewish comics and even, dare I say it, for metrosexual half-Canadian art critics with a fondness for offal, spinets and kilts.
I don't want to live by the clichés of a wan, Rockwellian America, and I don't admire pictures that suggest that all of us should."

http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2010/07/01/AR2010070107266.html

Anonymous said...

"The rustic scenes in Saving Private Ryan--the farm of Ryans family--is part Rockwellish, part Wyethism, part whateverelse-ish."
Yes - also the farm exterior is, appropriately for Iowa, Grant Wood-ish. I think there are references to many paintings throughout SPR - do you think so, Steve?
If I were a rich collector I'd rather have mint-condition Saturday Evening Post covers by NR than original oils.
Interesting that in the cold war cultural contest NR's "Americanist Realism" was never put up against "Socialist Realism". And that Soviet painters could never come up with an icon like Rosie the Riveter, altho Soviet women war workers were much more significant than American ones.