Tuesday, June 9, 2015
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.
"It was not until I became interested in the liturgy that I started thinking about art, and started looking at it carefully. And since I’m a philosophy professor, thinking about art translated quickly into teaching a course in the Philosophy of Art. During one of those classes, Rockwell came up. I probably mentioned him. My grandmother, like yours, had Rockwell coffee table books (which have now come to me, in fact) and I’ve always liked his pictures, despite having the vague sense that I shouldn’t. Well, anyway, after that discussion, where I found myself defending Rockwell against the cynicism of youth, I spent a few hours looking at those coffee table books to see if I had been correct: is there really anything to this stuff? And that evening, I noticed something about "Shuffleton’s Barbershop" that, it turns out (much to my surprise), nobody else has noticed—despite its glaring obviousness. Somehow, that one insight grew into a whole book.
And I must say it hasn’t been altogether easy to be working on a book about Norman Rockwell. In certain circles, it’s embarrassing to admit to liking Rockwell. I imagine that it would feel similar to like Celine Dion. Nobody denies the skill of Dion as a singer (however much they may deplore the histrionics), but still, intellectuals (at any rate) wouldn’t be caught dead listening to her. Same with Rockwell. He’s a good painter, everyone admits, but the intellectual class loathes him.
I doubt I will have much to say in this book that will make Rockwell more acceptable to the intellectual class. I will not try to turn him into a nihilist or a revolutionary or a pedophile. I will leave him as he was: a decent, hardworking man who made excellent paintings for a living, just as others make shoes or buildings or wheat. But I will try to show that there is a vision—at heart, a theological vision—behind Rockwell’s art, and that this vision is one he shares with some greats, including especially Dickens and Chesterton."
So, to recap, it started with the liturgy, then became a general interest in the philosophy of art, and then quite accidentally became an interest in Rockwell. (Incidentally, I wrote up that obvious observation about "Shuffleton's Barbershop" here.)
The more I have looked at Rockwell, and the more I have read and thought about him, the more I like him, and the more I become grateful that I stumbled into trying to write about him.