A museum in Paris, France.
The Smithsonian Museum of American Art has a terrific exhibition on right now. Steven Spielberg and George Lucas have done something wonderful. They have lent their Norman Rockwell collection out for Americans to see, and they are unashamedly admitting that they like Norman Rockwell paintings! Well Hallelujah!
If you are old enough to remember the smell of burning leaves in the autumn, you will probably remember the days when Norman Rockwell was a kind of national treasure. When the Saturday Evenning Post hit the doorstep the first thing everyone looked for was the Rockwell cover. In the late fifties and early sixties things were moving awfully fast. A sizeable percentage of the population had been born without telephones or electricity in their houses. While the intellectuals pushed Piccaso and Jackson Pollack, many folks clung to what they knew, and what they knew was Norman Rockwell.
Rockwell 's witty, gently funny images tell stories, as Steven Spielberg and George Lucas point out in the film that is shown with this excellent exhibition of his work. The people in Rockwell's America are trying to do their best. They're sometimes bewildered by life, often surprised but willing to laugh at themselves. The children aren't perfect, but they're trying awfully hard. Secretaries gaze out of windows at handsome workmen, while their bosses imagine they are the ones idolized. Boys cling to diving boards, little girls watch lovers on trains, cops smile at pretty girls in snappy cars. This is an America far more innocent that today.
But if you grew up with Rockwell you probably remember the decline of his reputation, as Americans became more sophisticated about art. Rockwell was too literaral said critics. His art told too much of the story. And many felt that Rockwell's art took no chances, was not controversial, was too folksy.
While this is often true, its also beside the point. Norman Rockwell was reflecting a part of America, yes it was mostly white and mostly middle or working class, but it was also real to many people. And seeing Rockwell's pictures lightened the load of real life. Rockwell's picture of a returning solder trying on his civilian clothes after WWII said it all. The clothes were too small but they also didn't fit the person any more. This is a terrifying and depressing thing for a young man returning from war, but Rockwell's painting stresses the love and affection that America felt for that young man, who had given up his youth for his country.
Few of the serious Rockwell paintings of the 1960s are in this exhibition. The famous picture of the little African American girl in Little Rock, with the unhappy figures of the federalized National Guard walking before and after her is one of Rockwell's most powerful pictures and , was one I missed, but that was the only one. The paintings that are here are ones we seldom see. Their wit and sweetness may melt your heart. Go with an open mind and a sense of humor. Norman Rockwell didn't appeal to the intellectuals and I thank Steven Spieberg and George Lucas for having the courage to tell us that they love his pictures anyway.
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