Happy Birthday, Normal Rockwell!
Imagine my delight when I opened last month’s issue of American Photo to find their last page talking about Norman Rockwell, the 20th century painter and illustrator who captured my heart and inspired my imagination almost 20 years ago. I couldn’t tell you what the singular moment was when I discovered Rockwell’s work, but it was always there in the background. His images were like fixtures in New England. Maybe because we shared a state, but more likely, because he could illustrate, and it was his work that taught me how to read art and how to begin to appreciate it.
Not long ago, I met a woman, another artist, who disliked his work with such a fiery passion that it gave new meaning to the phrase, “a violent reaction.” She went on and on about how pedantic it was. It didn’t leave anything to the imagination, and people were spoon fed the concepts of care and community, as well as togetherness and family. I found myself more and more interested in her reaction.
Finally, when she took a breath, I asked if his work could possibly be where people started on their own paths to appreciating art because it was easy to “read” his images. We share different time periods with the artist who is creating the work, but we can all easily “get” what his work is saying. I was 8 when I first saw the image below, and I remember thinking that someone had to make sure she got to school okay. I was eight years old. I got what his illustration was trying to say.
So, why was this painter/illustrator in a photo magazine? As it turns out, Rockwell set up the subjects for his intended painting and used photography as a tool to bring his ideas to life. He carefully staged the photographs, selecting props, locations, and models, and then orchestrating it down to the finite details. He created an abundance of photographs for each new subject, sometimes capturing complete compositions and other times combining separate pictures of individual elements.Continued on the next page