Saturday, July 12, 2014

An American Mirror



I’m a in a summertime non-fiction stage. Losing myself into pages upon pages. That’s the nice thing about non-fiction—you can read as fast as you want and not have to worry about the thread of a story or the outcome of certain characters. We already know what happened to them, we only care about how they got there.

Right now I’m immersed in the life of artist/illustrator Norman Rockwell. American Mirror: The Life and Art of Norman Rockwell by Deborah Solomon is a highly readable and enjoyable biography that doesn’t seem to gloss or get lost in the controversy of whether Rockwell was a true artist or the definitions that separate an artist from an illustrator. The high attendance that accompanies exhibitions of his work have taken care of that. He is popular, so was Jackson Pollack. He was the stuff of headlines, so was Mapplethorpe. Warhol bought several of Rockwell’s paintings. Perhaps he shared an affinity with Rockwell as Warhol started off his career as a commercial artist, designing newspaper ads for shoes. His little books and self-illustrated feline Christmas cards often come upon the market and are much sought after.

It occurred to me while reading the biography that Rockwell was a sort of flash artist. He was able to capsulate a moment in one’s life: the returning soldier, the young girl growing up—looking into a mirror almost afraid of what she is seeing, the little boy running away from home—obviously because of the hobo-type stick with his belongings bandanna-ed to the end, discarded by a stool at a diner, where a cop sits next to him, possibly engaging him in conversation, possibly even buying the young runaway a soda and slice of pie. You see, Rockwell wove narratives into his work just like a graphic or cartoon artist designs panels to tell a story. And, just like flash, they are short, recognizable at a glance, but there are MANY possibilities, a number of outcomes or reasons why. Of how the characters got to where they are—frozen in oil.

Some have described Rockwell as a master storyteller. Yet, the story, which began with him, is really the observers to unwind, to interpret. They bring to the viewing their own perspective and life experience, rendering—as with most good art—a collaboration.

What is your favorite Rockwell? Use one from a list of many as a prompt to remember, to write a flash.
he Problem We All Live With is a 1964 painting by Norman Rockwell. An iconic image of the civil rights movement in the United States, depicting Ruby Bridges

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