Wednesday, September 01, 2010

Norman Rockwell

At City Journal, Ryan Cole has a nice summary of a popular new Rockwell exhibit.

Critics would likely seize upon the sight to observe that popular approval does not equal artistic quality, especially when the art in question is insufficiently socially aware. Certainly that’s the view of Washington Post art critic Blake Gopnik, who in reviewing the show derided Rockwell as the cowardly, “aw, shucks” epitome of Middle America. Rockwell “doesn’t challenge any of us, or himself, to think new thoughts or try new acts or look with fresh eyes,” wrote Gopnik. “From the docile realism of his style to the received ideas of his subjects, Rockwell reliably keeps us right in the middle of our comfort zone.”
That view is so tired and pathetic, as Cole points out. And here is a visual, to drive home the point:

1 comment:

dcat said...

One of my favorite Rockwell paintings depicts a little black girl in a white dress clearly walking to school, accompanied by an MP, next to a tomato-splattered wall. Seems pretty socially aware and challenging to me -- especially since much of his work appeared on the Saturday Evening Post's cover, a mass magazine not known for its wildly liberal policies.

I also love a lot of Rockwell's baseball work and his depiction of the Four Freedoms. Perhaps not "challenging" in the conventional sense, but certainly presenting them posed a challenge to Americans to live up to those ideals.

The reality with art, at least for me, is that I prefer it with as little overt interpretation as possible. I'd rather not "get" something than have someone walk me through its meaning. Especially if that meaning leads you to find out that some artists aren't as profound or as clever as they or their boosters think they are.

I'm fine with abstraction and its ilk as an aesthetic. But don't try to sell me that those four squiggles and two squares represent the universality of human suffering. Better for me to think there is some deep reservoir of meaning in your work than for me to realize you're a pretentious douche.