Monday, January 18, 2016

The Ideals of Childhood

“The view of life I communicate in my pictures excludes the sordid and ugly.
I paint life as I would like it to be.”
Norman Rockwell

It is said that there is wisdom in crowds and should this be the case then the artist/illustrator Normal Rockwell who the New York Times’ Deborah Solomon described in her 1999 article In Praise of Bad Art as “Mr. Sentimentality” must be in the pantheon of American greats.

From the 321 covers he painted for The Saturday Evening Post over a 50-year period to his later works for Look Magazine, Rockwell’s name and his art were the hallmark of American illustration. And even today nearly 40 years after his death, Rockwell is honored with a museum dedicated to his art in particular and illustration in general, his original paintings command millions at auction and his exhibitions break attendance records at the museums who show them.

Rockwell was a city kid who loved and idealized country life and small town America whose values infused his work.

As Vanity Fair’s David Kamp relates from Rockwell’s memoire “In the city we kids delighted to go up on the roof of our apartment house and spit down on the passers-by in the street below. But we never did things like that in the country. The clean air, the green fields, the thousand and one things to do … got somehow into us and changed our personalities as much as the sun changed the color of our skins.”

This desire to be a better person, to embrace the myth of American values that underpins the country’s belief today in its exceptionalism, inspired Rockwell’s work.

As he further says in his memoire “Maybe as I grew up and found that the world wasn’t the perfectly pleasant place I had thought it to be I unconsciously decided that, even if it wasn’t an ideal world, it should be and so painted only the ideal aspects of it—pictures in which there were no drunken slatterns or self-centered mothers, in which, on the contrary, there were only Foxy Grandpas who played baseball with the kids and boys [who] fished from logs and got up circuses in the back yard… The summers I spent in the country as a child became part of this idealized view of life. Those summers seemed blissful, sort of a happy dream. But I wasn’t a country boy, I didn’t really live that kind of life. Except later on in my paintings.”

New York’s Hyde Collection is currently showing the exhibition Normal Rockwell in the 1960’s until the 3rd of April.

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