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.

Now, the funny thing about this blurb is that the illustrations included on the very page where it's posted show that Rockwell did anything but copy these photos.  The poses and scenes in the pictures are similar to the painted scenes, but that they're not copies is obvious.  A great part of the interest in the paintings has to do with what Rockwell didn't copy.

The included illustrations also show that his art was anything but photorealistic.  Perhaps the use of that term was just meant as a little joke.  (He's a realist painter, and he uses photos.  Photo realist!)  I'm not sure.  Anyway, the idea that Rockwell was a proto-photorealist is, I think, deeply misguided.

The blurb is a mere soundbite, but it manages to get at least one, and perhaps two things wrong.  In this particular case, they're just minor slips--misleading, but no doubt not recognized by the author as being anything worth thinking too carefully about.  I don't want to be too hard on the blurb.

I mention it only because it fits so well into the pattern of Rockwell criticism that just gets Rockwell wrong, largely because the criticism is so thoughtless, and fed by vague associations rather than careful study.  

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