Thursday, July 2, 2015

An Experiment in Criticism, part two

"The first demand any work of art makes upon us is surrender.  Look.  Listen.  Receive.  Get yourself out of the way.  (There is no good asking first whether the work before you deserves such a surrender, for until you have surrendered you cannot possibly find out.)"  (An Experiment in Criticism, 19)

In the first entry in this little series on CS Lewis's An Experiment in Criticism, I explained Lewis's distinction between the few and the many.  Or, rather, I explained it as far as he got with it in his first couple of chapters.  The difficulty of drawing the distinction clearly, you recall, necessitated some examples.  Lewis proposes to further explain by examining the use of pictures and music.  I am mainly interested in his discussion of pictures, for what I take to be obvious reasons.

Friday, June 26, 2015

Rockwell and Conservatism

One account of Rockwell has it that he was a semi-repressed "mere" illustrator throughout much of his career--prevented by the Saturday Evening Post from painting anything challenging or ugly.  But once he left the Post in the early 60's, he was able to follow his conscience and paint as he saw fit.  Hence, he found himself painting his well-known "civil rights" pictures, among other things.

On this view, much of Rockwell's work can be more or less discarded as somehow inauthentic, and Rockwell's status as an artist is secured principally by those few late pictures.

Thursday, June 11, 2015

An Experiment in Criticism

We love CS Lewis for things like the Space Trilogy or The Abolition of Man, or the Screwtape Letters.  Oh, or Narnia.  But of course he was an English Professor, and he published a good deal in his own area of expertise.  One such work--one which must have been among the last things he published--is An Experiment in Criticism.  In this post, and one or two future posts, I will run through some of the ideas from this book and connect them to Rockwell criticism.

Tuesday, June 9, 2015

Why Rockwell?

Writing about Norman Rockwell is an odd pastime for an analytic metaphysician.

I don't believe I've explained on this blog why I am writing about Norman Rockwell.  The reason for this is that I do not find myself very interesting, and I imagine you don't find me very interesting, either.  The blog is about Rockwell, not about me.  Still, maybe one quick post by way of justifying the project.

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Failing the Poor

This blog is, at least for now, principally about the art of Norman Rockwell.  (And, by the way, postings have been sparse recently because I've been incredibly busy and simply unable to make time for blogging.  I hope to be able to find a bit more spare time soon!)  This post, however, is not principally about Norman Rockwell (though we'll get there eventually).  Reader beware.

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Symphony in White

This picture hangs in the National Gallery in DC.

It is one of those pictures I've seen reproduced a thousand times.  Whistler, of course.  I've never been a fan of Whistler.  I wouldn't have expected to find this picture especially interesting.  But when I saw it for the first time, it took my breath away.  I mean that pretty much literally.  I saw it through the doorway, hanging in the next gallery over, and I had an involuntary intake of breath.  If I were less cool, it would have been something almost like a gasp.  As it is, I'd say it was an involuntary intake of breath.  I got my breath back quickly enough, but I was surprised to have lost it.  None of the other pictures I looked at that day prompted such a physical reaction.

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Rockwell Parody Poster for "Muhammad Art Exhibit"

As I've discussed before, Rockwell's work is often parodied.  The most recent parody (that I've heard about) was the publicity poster for the recent "Muhammad Art Exhibit" in Texas.  You can see the poster here.  It's pretty standard: take a beloved Rockwell image and try to update it.  I'm not much in the business of trying to guess what Rockwell would make of contemporary happenings.  (Would he have voted for Obama or Romney?  Would he......? etc)  But I am pretty confident that he wouldn't have approved of this event.  He was a very kindhearted man, and he didn't much go in for mockery.

I myself am of two minds about it.  Of course, artists have the right to create virtually anything they like, including images banned by religious authority--Muslim or otherwise.  Moreover, in a world where making such pictures can draw down the wrath of Islamic murderers on you, it does take a certain amount of bravado to go ahead and do it.  It's not like mocking Christ--that's easy.  Mocking Muhammad might put you at risk.

Thursday, April 30, 2015

Follow-up on the death of the author

In a recent post, I wrote about the idea of the "death of the author."  In a different recent post here, I mentioned that Roger Reed's review of Deborah Solomon's book on Rockwell put Solomon in the death of the author camp of art criticism, and I mentioned in passing that I wanted to address this claim in a later post.  This is that later post.

Monday, April 27, 2015

A Movie with Rockwellian sensibilities

The makers of "Little Boy" say that their movie has a Norman Rockwell sensibility.  I've wondered before now whether Rockwell's work itself is really all that "Rockwellian," but I'll leave that issue aside for today.  I will also have to leave aside any questions about the merits of "Little Boy," or whether I think it is Rockwellian in any sensible way or what have you.  I haven't seen it.

This post is prompted by Michael O'Sullivan's Washington Post review of the movie.

Friday, April 24, 2015

Rockwell and the Post: at Odds?

Is there a contradiction at the heart of Rockwell’s work?

Consider: he painted many images of charming small-town life, and may possibly be sensibly classified as a regionalist painter.  There is something about him that seems to favor the small, the local, the unique.

And yet, he is perhaps best known as a cover artist for the Saturday Evening Post, which was a massive agent responsible for the flattening of American cultures—sort of the cable TV of its day.

Rosie the Riveter model Mary Doyle dies at 92

The Rutland Herald has the AP account.

Requiem aeternam dona ei, Domine, et lux perpetua luceat ei. Requiescat in pace. Amen.

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Art Criticism and Gun Culture 2.0

My WFU colleague David Yamane is a sociologist working on America's gun culture.  He has a great blog on the topic, and a couple of his recent posts were--oddly enough--remarkably relevant to art criticism as it's currently (too often) practiced.  In these two posts (One and Two) Yamane was writing about Warrior Dreams by James William Gibson.

The very short version is that Gibson apparently sees not only firearms themselves, but various gun-related items (including ammunition and holsters) as sexually charged.  Guns are phallic, holsters are vaginal, etc.  Even the wound channel produced by a bullet strike is suggestive of a vagina to Gibson.

Now, this is all very silly.  And it's hard to know what to make of such silliness.  Yamane does as well as one probably could do, saying, among other things,

"Although I do not want to dismiss Gibson’s work entirely, in this case I think a picture of an expanded hollow point bullet or a drawing of a wound channel is like a Rorschach test.  In Rorschach tests, people’s perceptions of various inkblots are understood as projections of their own personality characteristics and emotional functioning. Gibson’s psycho-sexual analysis of defensive ammunition, therefore, probably tells us more about Gibson than about gun culture itself."

Yep, I reckon so.

The reason these posts jumped out at me is quite simple: you find so much of the same kind of thing in art criticism.  I write a good bit about this in my book.  While I don't want to put too much of the book on this blog--else, why bother publishing the book?--I think I can spare a snippet.

Here is part of what one critic had to say about [Winslow Homer's] The Gulf Stream: “The sharks in The Gulf Stream …, encircling the helpless boat with sinuous seductiveness, can be read as castrating temptresses, their mouths particularly resembling the vagina dentate, the toothed sexual organ that so forcefully expressed the male fear of female aggression.”   Here again, the silly fixation with importing Freudian worries about castration.  The two visible shark mouths don’t look especially vaginal.  (They do, however, have an uncanny similarity to a certain toothed orifice—a shark’s mouth.)  It’s hard to see why anyone would take this kind of thing seriously.  (The quotation is taken from Roger Kimball's The Rape of the Masters, Encounter 2004, 123.  Note, however, that Kimball is not the critic in question: Kimball is mocking the critic in question.)

And yet, this style of "criticism" continues to be published, and continues, apparently, to be taken somebody out there, somewhere.  In an earlier piece, I called this the "that's what she said" school of art criticism.  Still seems an appropriate label to me.

Monday, April 20, 2015

The Death of the Author

For quite a long time, many art critics and other professional interpreters have accepted the doctrine of the “death of the author.”  There are several related but subtly different notions—the “intentional fallacy,” or the “personal heresy,” for example—that all converge on roughly the same idea: the artist’s intentions, desires, personal history and so on are irrelevant to the meaning of the work, and hence access to the author (and his or her intentions or desires in creating the artwork) is not merely unnecessary, but is in fact a distraction to be avoided.

GK Chesterton wrote:

"The function of criticism, if it has a legitimate function at all, can only be one function—that of dealing with the subconscious part of the author’s mind which only the critic can express, and not with the conscious part of the author’s mind, which the author itself can express.  Either criticism is no good at all (a very defensible position) or else criticism means saying about an author the very things that would have made him jump out of his boots."  (Appreciations and Criticisms of Charles Dickens, 272)

Friday, April 17, 2015

Rockwell was a New York City boy, you know

We generally think of Rockwell as a small town artist, but in fact, he's from New York City.  Manhattan-born in 1894.  His family used to escape the city when they could, taking little trips to stay with nearby farmers in the summer, taking weekend rides to the country at the end of the train lines, and so on.  And Rockwell always preferred the countryside to the city.

But he stayed near New York City for a long time.  His parents moved out of the city, first to Long Island, and later to New Rochelle (after an interval back in the city).  Rockwell lived in New Rochelle until 1938--well into his forties.  Then on to Vermont, and ultimately to Stockbridge, Mass.

Thursday, April 16, 2015

I wouldn't call this "copying"

In the "old and minor critical comments about Rockwell" department, here's a little blurb on Rockwell's "photo realism," prompted by Ron Schick's fine book about Rockwell:

Norman Rockwell’s rosy illustrations of small town American life looked so photographic because his method was to copy photographs that he conceived and meticulously directed, working with various photographers and using friends and neighbors as his models.

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

The World Turned Upside Down

GK Chesterton wrote, “We were talking about St. Peter.... [Y]ou remember that he was crucified upside down. I’ve often fancied his humility was rewarded by seeing in death the beautiful vision of his boyhood. He also saw the landscape as it really is: with the stars like flowers, and the clouds like hills, and all men hanging on the mercy of God.” (The Poet and the Lunatics, 14)  You might say that if Chesterton’s fancy (or that of his character Gabriel Syme’s) is correct, that St. Peter’s head-down crucifixion provided him with a proper vision of the world.  Call it a "fresh perspective," to borrow the title of Kralik's picture.  St. Peter saw all men hanging on the mercy of God—which is the way things actually are, even though he couldn’t see it before.  

JRR Tolkien called this freshness of perspective “recovery”:

Recovery (which includes return and renewal of health) is a re-gaining—regaining of a clear view. I do not say ‘seeing things as they are’ and involve myself with the philosophers, though I might venture to say ‘seeing things as we are (or were) meant to see them’—as things apart from ourselves. We need, in any case, to clean our windows; so that the things seen clearly may be freed from the drab blur of triteness and familiarity—from possessiveness.  (“On Fairy Stories,”146)

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Rockwell as Illustrator: Painting "that which was to be expressed"

Norman Rockwell is closely connected to the Saturday Evening Post--so closely connected in the public mind that some people think he painted all the Post's covers during his time with them.  Of course, he did not: it was a weekly magazine!  But he painted many Post covers, and many of his best-loved images were painted for the Post.

Rockwell is also widely considered to be a kind of chronicler of classic ("nostalgic"!) small-town life, or of an idealized rural world.  His Rockwellian view of things presents cute, folksy, happy people doing cute, folksy things.  Happily.  And he denies the intrusion of the ugly or the sorrowful into this idealized world.

This latter view of Rockwell is just as erroneous as the former--the view that he painted all the Post's covers--even though they're both understandable errors in some sense.  And in a funny way, I think they're connected.

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

Roger Reed's Review

It seems I must write again about Deborah Solomon's deplorable book American Mirror.  Or, at any rate, I must write about someone writing about it.  In an earlier post, I noted that the book is an inexhaustible source of material subject to devastating objections.  That this is so is well demonstrated by Roger Reed's piece on Solomon in the Journal of Illustration.  (The piece itself is not freely available, so I won't bother to try to link it.  But it's worth tracking down or buying, if you're really keen on such matters.  It's "American fun-house mirror," in volume 1, issue 2, 2014, pp 321-332.)

Although I dislike having to write about Solomon, I'm very glad to be writing this post, because Reed's review, quite apart from its critical evaluation of Solomon, offers tremendously valuable insight into Rockwell himself.

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

"Lift Up Thine Eyes" in the Blogosphere

My book and blog are named after a lesser-known Rockwell.  The painting has not been reproduced very often.  It was in a private collection, I believe, for many years.  And now it belongs to Brigham Young University.  Because the picture isn't all that well known, it's not talked about very much by Rockwell lovers.  So it's a delight to find a (somewhat) recent post about the picture on a very nice blog by Theresa, a Catholic homeschooling mom of five.  As it happens, I am married to a Catholic homeschooling mom of five (not Theresa).  So she and I have a fair bit in common.

Here's a little bit of what Theresa wrote:

"Rather than see this painting as a depressing commentary on the busyness, self-absorption, and distracted preoccupation of modern life, I actually find this image full of hope and encouragement.  Someone is about to look up.  Who will it be?  Which fortunate passerby will raise his eyes to the majesty of the church and be simultaneously overwhelmed and comforted by its immensity, its enormous presence?  Someone is about to realize the awesome presence of God in the midst of the busyness, in the midst of the crowd, in the midst of his very own simple, but significant, life.  That someone will continue walking down the street, but will not be lost to the drudgery.  Instead, he'll continue on transformed.  He will go about the same tasks, but now with his eyes fixed on that which sanctifies them - the holy presence of God in every bit, every tiny, seemingly insignificant corner, of our lives."

This take on the picture is remarkably similar to mine.  (I'll post more about my views later.)  But here are a couple of questions.  Did Rockwell intend the viewer to draw this kind of meaning from the picture?  If not, does that make it wrong to see the picture this way?

To the first question, I'd, I don't think so.  It's a little bit too spiritually-charged as Theresa puts it.  Rockwell does want us to appreciate the things around us, and I believe that ultimately this is connected to his belief in the Goodness of the Created world.  But I think Rockwell's view is not religious in itself.  He wants us to be grateful, and that's a profound basis upon which to arise to an explicitly religious appreciation for things.  But I am not sure he quite got to that point himself.  You'll have to decide, when I get around to posting more clearly about my own views, if the distinction I'm hastily drawing here really holds up.

To the second question, I'd also say no, at least not in this case.  Even if Theresa is taking the picture a bit more spiritually than it was intended, she's doing nothing to violate the obvious sense of the picture.  Adding a bit of specificity that the painter might not have intended is no abuse.  Theresa has produced a lovely meditation on a beautiful and inspiring painting.

Sunday, March 29, 2015

The Low Standards of Norman Rockwell's Critics

Front Porch Republic has published an article of mine criticizing Rockwell's critics.  The job of criticizing Rockwell's critics is both easy and difficult.  Easy, because they so often say things that are just entirely obviously false.  Difficult, because so many of them say such things so often.  It's awfully hard to keep up.

In this piece, "The Low Standards of Norman Rockwell's Critics," I focus on a recent review of the Rockwell exhibition in Tampa.  

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Duck Fever

Most of Rockwell's best-known pictures were made for the Saturday Evening Post.  But that doesn't mean that most of his best pictures were made for the Saturday Evening Post.  My favorite Rockwell wasn't, just for example.  It's all too easy to restrict your attention to the best-known pictures, but you can't understand Rockwell without looking elsewhere.

Rockwell himself broke his work up into four categories: magazine covers, illustrations, calendars and advertising.  (Get a copy of How I Make a Picture, which I mention here, to see what he has to say about this.)

His illustrations often gave him an opportunity to work in formats he couldn't do on magazine covers--strong horizontal compositions, for example.

(That's him there on the left.  No, not the crazy looking guy with the big mustache.  The other guy.)

But even his advertising images were often extremely good.  I would have thought he'd be least inclined to really work hard on a picture for a straight-up ad.  But Rockwell didn't work that way.  He generally went far beyond what could be reasonably expected of him.  Now, I do not think the picture I'm about to discuss is one of his best.  It's a fun picture, but not a masterpiece.  But I do think it is better than most of the Post covers he was making at the same time.

Friday, March 20, 2015

Edward Knippers and the Episcopalian Imagination

I've been meaning to write a post about Ed Knippers since before I actually started this blog.  A recent interview on Prosblogion with Jennifer Frey has prompted me to get around to it.

Frey, a philosopher at South Carolina, says, "Embodiment is a huge theme in my work, and one of the things that drew me to Aristotelian-Thomism in the first place is the attention paid to the fact that we are a certain kind of material animal, and that we shouldn’t entertain wild fantasies about ourselves that ignore this or downplay it."

Then she goes on to say that her goal as a philosopher is to resurrect a hylemorphic picture of human beings.  Since I happen to be writing a book with precisely the same goal, I find this encouraging and congenial!  But this isn't a post about hylemorphism.  It's a post about painting.

Ed Knippers doesn't have a lot to say about hylemorphism, but his painting is strongly oriented toward human embodiment, with particular focus on the Incarnation.

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

An Original Rockwell

I bought my daughter an original Rockwell for her birthday last year.  You might assume that, like most other poor academics, such a magnificent gift would be beyond my means.  But I am a clever one, and I got ahold of this picture on Ebay for less than $20.

The image is one of the illustrations for "The Story of Louisa May Alcott," published in serial form in the Ladies Home Companion in 1937 and 1938.

In fact, I've been holding out on you.  I've got two other original Rockwells.  One is an image he made for a postcard for the Knights of Columbus in 1919.  The other--here's the real stunner!--is the original "Shuffleton's Barbershop."  All easily purchased on a professor's salary.  A professor with five kids.

Here's how I did it.

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Still Causing Trouble

Willie Gillis may strike you as a nice, sweet boy.  But he has a history of causing trouble.

Oops!  Seventy years on, and Willie Gillis is still causing problems.  Although, to be fair, this time around Willie himself can't be blamed.

Friday, March 13, 2015

Attention to Detail

Howard Pyle can be viewed as Rockwell's master in the craft of illustration.  No, Rockwell did not study under him.  Pyle died when Rockwell was a very young art student, in 1911.  But Pyle was the most respected illustrator of his day, and Rockwell definitely sought to emulate him.  This meant not merely learning to paint as well as the master, but also learning his approach to illustration.  Pyle-style illustrators do not work out of pure imagination.  If they mean to illustrate a story about pirates, they don't dream up a pirate ship out of their own minds.  They go and find out what pirate ships really would have looked like.  And they paint that.  They are realists in a strong sense.

Rockwell followed this approach to a fault in his early career.  If you page through a chronological collection of his pictures, such as Christopher Finch's 332 Magazine Covers, you will see that a great many of Rockwell's works up until the early 40's (by which time Rockwell was nearly 50 years old) were costume numbers--colonial maidens, pirates, cowboys, and other such characters.  He had an enormous collection of costumes and other props stashed in his studio, and he liked to put them to use.

In 1943, he lost his studio, all the props, and sadly a great number of his paintings, in a fire.  After the fire, bereft of his massive costume collection, Rockwell more or less stopped with the costume pictures and started making his masterpieces instead.  Thank heavens nobody was hurt, but...thank heavens for the fire.

Despite more or less giving up on the costume pictures, Rockwell never did turn his back on his attention to detail, or to his obsessive commitment to getting the picture right.  And sometimes the pressure to get it right weighed on him.  His many fans would scour his pictures for mistakes, and write him letters excoriating him when they found some.  And find them they did.

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Religious Imagery in Norman Rockwell Paintings

This is a reprint of a piece I published awhile back at Crisis Magazine.  The original is here.

Contrary to a widespread misconception, Norman Rockwell was not a conventionally religious man. He was raised Episcopalian and spent many boyhood hours in church serving in the choir. But as an adult, Rockwell did not belong to a church at all, and seems to have entirely walked away from any kind of regular religious devotion. So where does this widespread misconception come from?

Saturday, March 7, 2015

Books about Rockwell

Suppose you are interested in Rockwell.  And suppose that for you, being interested in X generally means (among other things) you need to read a lot of books about X.  If that's your situation, you may head over to and try searching for "Norman Rockwell" books.  Not a bad start, but you'll get a huge pile of listings, many of them for books that are not very good.  So I thought I'd give you some pointers.  I am helpful.

These are the best places to start.

1. My Adventures as An Illustrator, by Norman Rockwell, as told to Tom Rockwell.  Rockwell's autobiography, and a must-have.

Thursday, March 5, 2015

Rockwell's Cop and Race

Rockwell's art has been parodied a million times, cleverly, stupidly, respectfully, cruelly, comically, angrily--virtually every way imaginable.  Particularly susceptible to parody, it seems, is the iconic "Freedom From Want."  But recently, another of Rockwell's works has stepped to the fore:

This was a Saturday Evening Post cover in 1958.  Cops don't seem to have quite the same public image these days.  I've seen multiple parodies of the Rockwell painting--I don't have the time or inclination to try to find out who was first to come up with the idea, but it's a popular one.

I can recall three similar pictures, though a few moments on Google only turns up two.

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Rockwell and Annigoni paint JFK

Norman Rockwell was enthusiastic about modern art.  He always held Picasso, for example, in very high regard.  At risk of alienating readers before they even arrive--the mechanism there I leave to you to work out--I will admit that I do not share that opinion.  When I think of the giants of 20th century art, I tend to think instead of people like Pietro Annigoni.

And, now that I stop to reflect a bit, I think of Norman Rockwell, too.  So it's a happy coincidence that both of these great artists painted John F. Kennedy.  Rockwell actually painted Kennedy at least 3 times.  Annigoni only once, for the cover of the Time Magazine issue declaring Kennedy 1961's "Man of the Year."

Let's compare and see what we can learn.

Sunday, March 1, 2015 Favorite Rockwell

Apologies for the title.  This is a companion post to "My Least Favorite Rockwell," so I couldn't just call it "My Favorite Rockwell."  It wouldn't have the proper symmetry.

In an upcoming post, I will talk about one of his best paintings: "Shuffleton's Barbershop."  And I'm tempted to say that's my favorite.  But as much as I love that picture, I have to say that of all the Rockwell canvases I have seen, one of them stands out as having been perhaps the most stunningly beautiful.

This picture, sometimes called "Christmas in Bethlehem," sometimes called "Uneasy Christmas in the Birthplace of Peace," and probably sometimes called other things still--Rockwell didn't name his pictures, so it's a bit of a free for all--was published in Look Magazine in 1970.

It's been several years since I saw it, and I might revise my opinion whenever I get to see it again.  But for now, thinking back on this picture--which I saw in a traveling exhibit at the North Carolina Museum of Art--I remember finding the golden glow so warm and rich that I was overwhelmed by it.  This is a painting that should convince anyone of Rockwell's extraordinary power.

The picture is fascinating to me as a critic obsessed with the "meaning" of pictures.  Perhaps in a future post I'll talk about that side of things.  But for today, I just want to hold this up before you as a Rockwell canvas that can be appreciated without getting into the narrative at all.  It's simply a beautiful painting.  You should go see it.

Floridians, I believe it may be at the Tampa Museum of Art at the moment in a traveling exhibition called American Chronicles, which opens on March 7.

Saturday, February 28, 2015

My Least Favorite Rockwell

Norman Rockwell made some great paintings.  I'll post about my favorite Rockwell soon.  But I thought I'd talk first about my least favorite.  This idea came out of a recent conversation with a friend who told me her least favorite Rockwell is the image I discussed in Rockwell's Gay Sailors.  I mentioned my least favorite picture in turn.  But then a funny thing happened.  I realized not only that it was not as bad as I thought, but that I'd never properly looked at it before.

I believe that not really looking at Rockwell's paintings is a common fault among his detractors.  (I make that point in this post.)  But I'm not silly enough to make that mistake!  Or so I'd have said until recently.  Mea Culpa.

Rockwell painted a lot.  So it's no surprise that he made plenty of fair to middling pictures, but one has always stood out for me as the worst.  It's this one.

The picture was published in 1919 as a cover for the Literary Digest.  It is an illustration for "The Story of the Lost Battalion."  If you're unfamiliar with the Lost Battalion, you should definitely read about what happened--this was a very real episode which led to 7 Congressional Medals of Honor, and multiple Distinguished Service Crosses.  It's no wonder there was a cover story about it in a major magazine.

Friday, February 27, 2015

Another Fake Rockwell

Almost a decade ago, Rockwell's "Breaking Home Ties" was found in the wall of an old house in Vermont, where it had been hidden for many years.  A copy--a forgery--had been hanging in the Norman Rockwell Museum.

Interesting story.  You can get the details from the New York Times and, more importantly, from John Howard Sanden.  Sanden saw the forgery in the museum for what it was.

Why didn't anyone else?  I mean, until the orginal was discovered?  Maybe nobody was looking all that carefully.

It seems it's happened again.  Twenty years ago, a couple bought a "Norman Rockwell" painting from a gallery in New York.  This was apparently a pretty well researched purchase--in addition to the gallery's own authentication, the couple got a second appraisal, and were told that everything looked good.

Thursday, February 26, 2015

Norman Rockwell's Gay Sailors

(Sometimes a cigar is just a cigar....)

Over the last year or so, Deborah Solomon’s biography of Norman Rockwell has gotten a lot of attention, some laudatory, some extremely negative.  Recently, the New York Times listed it in its 100 “Notable” books of 2014.  This is unfortunate, for while the book is indeed notable, I don’t believe its notoriety is the sort implied through its inclusion on such a list.  It’s mainly notable for its outrageous falsifications and distortions. 

Some Criticism of Some Criticism

There have been some very bad things written about Norman Rockwell.  Deborah Solomon's biography American Mirror is the outstanding example here.  I've written a pretty fair amount about Solomon's very bad book--and there's a little more about it in Lift Up Thine Eyes.  Abigail Rockwell has also written a good deal about American Mirror.  Here are some links to this material.

My long review essay in First Things.

My first and second short pieces in Huffington Post.

Abigail Rockwell's first and second Huffington Post pieces.

These pieces are not particularly edifying, since the point of them is to show how badly Solomon has erred.  They shouldn't be necessary, but they are--Solomon's book is still selling, and still being nominated for awards, and such.  I'd like to make this post one of the few negative ones on this blog, and I'm getting it out of the way early.  My next post will also be negative.  I can't say it will be the very last such post--who knows?--but at least it will be the last for the foreseeable future.  Time to lift up our eyes.

Was Norman Rockwell's Art Really Rockwellian?

Bill Millis and his family have made a generous donation to The Norman Rockwell Museum in Stockbridge, MA: namely the cute and sentimental picture often called “Puppy Love.” 

It’s a wonderful gesture on the part of the Mills family (my North Carolina neighbors), and I’m sure the museum staff is overjoyed to have the famous image on its way to them.  Still, as a Rockwell fan, I have to say—I can’t wait for this picture to get out of the news.  This picture strongly reinforces a widely-believed set of notions about Rockwell.  To wit: Rockwell painted cute kids doing cute stuff with their cute dogs.  Or their cute grandfathers.  Or with other cute kids.  There’s nothing deep or challenging about the art.  Nothing very interesting, either.  Rockwell is exactly what the word “kitsch” was made for.  Sentiment, artificiality, depthless nostalgic schmaltz.

That’s Rockwell’s public image, no doubt.  The trouble with this image is that it’s just false.  

Lift Up Thine Eyes

This is my first experiment in blogging.  At first, the blog will largely be about the art of Norman Rockwell.  This is appropriate, since the blog is named after a Rockwell painting.  This one.

Although it would be more accurate to say that the blog is named after my book on Norman Rockwell, which is named after this painting.  But my interest in Rockwell, though likely permanent, is not exclusive.  And the blog will eventually turn to other matters, especially the thought of G.K. Chesterton, and of St. Thomas Aquinas.  The blog's title will remain appropriate, since in every case my intention will be to exhort the reader to lift up his eyes.