The Alienation of Norman Rockwell

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“[Rockwell's world] is a place of safety and security, and it’s a place where there can be problems but where problems have solutions and the solutions are often provided by the people who live next door to you; if not the girl next door, then maybe the old man next door, and a doctor will take time to hear you out and will not ask you for paperwork, and will not ask you who is paying your health insurance. It’s a world where Americans will stop and pause and listen to one another and basically take care of one another. It’s a very caring place.

“I see a lot of him in the paintings. I know a lot of people keep saying to me, oh, his life was so different from his art, but I see some of his alienation in the art. If we talk about the Thanksgiving picture, for instance, ‘Freedom from Want.’ It’s interesting to me that no one in that painting is looking at anyone else. … It’s toasty warm but it also, I think, raises questions about why none of the figures are connected to one another …”

-Deborah Solomon, author of American Mirror, on New Hampshire Public Radio’s Word of Mouth talking about the life of Norman Rockwell. Read more from our podcast picks.

(h/t @contextual_life)

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Photo: Wikimedia Commons

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  • Nick

    “If we talk about the Thanksgiving picture, for instance, ‘Freedom
    from Want.’ It’s interesting to me that no one in that painting is
    looking at anyone else. … It’s toasty warm but it also, I think, raises
    questions about why none of the figures are connected to one another”

    Pardon? I couldn’t disagree more with this description of “Freedom from Want.” The painting shows a family sitting around a table for (presumably) Thanksgiving dinner. Mom and Dad (Grandma and Grandpa?) are at the head of the table serving food while the other members of the family are smiling and appear to be engaged in conversation with one another. That’s a far cry from “None of the figures are connected to one another.”

    Moreover, image of the painting above has cut off the very bottom of it, which includes an overt attempt to make the viewer feel as though s/he is part of the family. Rockwell painted a young man in the bottom right corner who is looking at the viewer with a friendly expression on his face, as if he is simply smiling at another member of the family seated at the end of the table. Much as Velazquez tried to give the viewers of “Las Meninas” the POV of King Phillip and Queen Mariana, Rockwell was trying to place his viewers at this table of plenty, surrounded by a large, loving family.

  • Jane Petrick

    May I suggest that an important aspect of Rockwell’s work that does reflect a real and ongoing
    concern in American life has been strangely overlooked in virtually all
    commentary on the man.

    If Norman Rockwell was depressed about anything, it was about the level of racial injustice in the
    world and, what seemed to him, his often thwarted or “hidden”
    attempts to confront it. My book on Rockwell, “Hidden in Plain
    Sight: The Other People in Norman Rockwell’s America” which also came out this
    fall (to much less fanfare than Solomon’s), addresses this theme. The back
    cover quotes Rockwell: “I just wanted to do something important.”

    Failure to address this very salient aspect of Rockwell’s life and work
    until now might just be another example of a reluctance to turn any mirror on
    the troubling, “non-artsy” issue of race.