Thursday, October 22, 2009

Rockwell, Images Of An Illustrator

There is a wonderful article in Vanity Fair this month about Norman Rockwell, and in particular about how he set up the compositions for his paintings. He photographed his subjects first, and now there is an extensive collection of his photographs, which I think would be as interesting to see as his paintings.

This is one of my favorite Rockwell paintings. The little girl is comparing herself unfavorably to the actress Jane Russell, whom she sees as beautiful and glamorous. But the viewer can see that the little girl will be far more beautiful when she is grown up. I like this picture because the little girl reminds me very much of Marigold.

Most people are familiar with "The Gossip". Rockwell used friends and family members as subjects for his paintings, and you can see the same folks throughout many of his works. I have never been a huge fan of Norman Rockwell's art. He really was more of an illustrator than an artist, but as an illustrator, no would could outshine him. He created images that today are referred to as "Rockwellian" or "kitschy", because they seemed to reflect a perfect way of life that perhaps did not really exist. But if you look closely at his paintings, you can also see images of reality. In his painting "Saying Grace", if you look through the curtains covering the diner window, you can see the diner is located in an industrial area.

Photography is very much a form of art, and I think it would be interesting to see Rockwell's photographs. Somehow they would give a whole new dimension to his paintings.

26 comments:

white crow said...

somehow i feel the paintings have more life in them.. but what do i know anyway. XD

Hilary said...

I have always loved Rockwell's art. He speaks to and from the heart. "Real" is all in how we perceive things and an artist is all about perception and interpretation. To me, true art is not about how identical something appears to reality. His tenderness and humour shines though most everything he did. That to me is a real artist. Thanks for sharing these accompanying photographs. I'd not seen them before. :)

Bagman and Butler said...

Thanks for this post. I sometimes wondered how Rockwell did it. Of course, the image still had to form in his creativity first...prior to the photograph. Excellent.

TC said...

I like Rockwells art also, it is sort of corny but real as you said. Maybe that's why I like it.

Looking @ the little girl I wondered how I would have painted her. I went through my wanna be wyeth period and my benton period with the round everything. Now I wish I'd brought my art supplies with me, I was being "good" and trying to get other things done while away from home. LOL

Inty swetha said...

they are really amazing!! thanks for letting me know so much about Rockwell.. i love your blog because i learn lots of new things which i never heard about :)

Land of shimp said...

I think part of the reason I've never been the biggest fan of Rockwell is that there's not much room for the viewer to participate on their own, individual level. It would be very rare to gather five people to view a Rockwell painting and for all to give different answers to "What do you think the people in this are thinking? Feeling?" There's a literalness to his work, a very straight forward quality that I don't enjoy as much as other artists.

Yet, I really greatly admire his talent. I like him, I admire him, but I don't own any of his prints. It's odd because that's generally what my relationships to various authors would be like. I can recognize something as being very well-written, but not having actually enjoyed the experience of reading the material.

No point, really, just musing. I've found Rockwell too blunt, too cheery, without enough nuance for me to truly end up thinking about his work when I left the room. Very few of his paintings follow me in thought.

So I do know what it is that troubles me about Rockwell: What a talent. My god, he could paint, depicting life so vividly...and I can't help but think that he never quite lived up to his imaginative potential. I sometimes wonder if there isn't a secret stash of the real Rockwell paintings. The ones he did, not to pay the bills, but that were actually what he felt moved to paint.

You're familiar with Edward Hopper, Jo. You know that he did a lot of commercial art. He paid his bills, and I've never like his commercial art particularly, yet I adore many of Hopper's paintings.

I think that's how I feel about Rockwell. I can admire the technical proficiency of his commercial artwork, made to grace magazine covers...but a part of me always feels disappointed, because i don't think I've ever seen his paintings.

TomCat said...

I's like to see them two, but I think that side-by-side, I'd prefer the paintings.

PhilipH said...

I think the girl and the mirror is quite charming. Jolly good study and I can see why it's your fav Jo.

Deedee said...

I have alwyas loved Norman Rockwell's art. I agree with White crow - he manages to infuse the paintings with more life than the original photo had!

Shaista said...

I have always been fascinated by Norman Rockwell, because I found a book of his art when I was a child, and certain pieces have never left my mind. Like the boy getting his hair cut - do you remember it? I find the facial expressions brilliant, oh far more interesting than the photographs!

Katy said...

Thanks for sharing this! I think its intersting to see how different artists work. I've never been a huge Rockwell fan myself, but why say "He really was more of an illustrator than an artist".

Illustrators are artists. The scenes he painted may not be yoru cup of tea. He created paintings that reflected his own world view and his own since of character and style. Why isn't that the work of an artist?

Brenda said...

I had a print of the girl in the mirror framed over 30 years ago. It has always been one of my favorites also.

Pauline said...

I grew up in Norman Rockwell land. He had a studio not 20 minutes from here that is now a museum. He was a friendly, down-to-earth fellow and once stopped working simply to welcome two teen-aged fellow classmates who dropped by, wanting to discuss painting with him.

Meggie said...

I too would love to see the photographs. He obviously added the points he wanted to make, in his art.

Jo said...

White Crow, I believe you're right. They do have more life in them.

Hilary, I rather like his paintings too, but I feel there is something missing -- but I'm not sure what it is.

Bagman and Butler, yes, and he did as many as ten compositions before he did the final painting.

TC, I envy anyone who can paint well. You're lucky. Rockwell was an excellent painter. I wonder if he ever did anything in a different style.

Inty Swetha, oh, goodness, thanks. I just read a lot, and post about things that interst me. :-)

Alane, exactly...! There is a tension in Edward Hopper's paintings that makes the viewer think and feel. A je ne sais quoi, so to speak. An artist makes the view look for things, an illustrator shows the viewer everything. I like Rockwell's paintings, I just don't love them.

TomCat, well, yes, but I think the photographs have a different, perhaps darker dimension to them. I find them interesting in that regard.

Philip, isn't that a lovely picture? It really reminds me of Marigold. She is just at that age too where here beauty is blossoming.

DeeDee, yes, when you put them side by side the paintings look better.

Shaista, yes, that picture is good. I like it too. I find the photographs interesting because Rockwell shows us the real people. It's a whole different aspect to his work.

Katy, There is a museum I would love to visit sometime called The National Museum of Illustration, and it features Norman Rockwell, J.C. Leyendecker and N.C. Wyeth, amongst others. A book Rockwell wrote in 1960 was called “My Life as an Illustrator”, and he is now being appreciated more for his art as well as his style of illustration. It's not really a style I generally care for, however, even though I do like some of his paintings.

Brenda, that painting of the girl in the mirror is definitely my favorite of all his work.

Pauline, omigosh...! I would imagine he would be very down-to-earth. He strikes me as that sort of person.

Meggie, yes, he definitely added touches that made the paintings more interesting. But some how I find the photographs fascinating.

ivan said...

Seems to be done by great painters all the time. I especially like Grant Woods' American Gothic and his visual tablature.
Although they were not real farmers---people actually close to Wood-- the couple were actual people who modelled for him. They were Dr. B.H McKeelby and Nan Wood.

Margie said...

I have always loved the work of Norman Rockwell.

Great post....thank you!

Margie:)

Jo said...

Ivan, yes, I think all the great artists did that from Van Gogh to Vermeer. It's all in the finished work, isn't it?

Margie, hi! Nice to see you! Yes, I like his work too, and I would love to see his photographs.

JeannetteLS said...

I love going to the Rockwell museum and it gave me shivers to be in his studio. It has always made me furious that people turn their noses up at illustrators, as if they are not artists. I'm not sure it's corny. No one did it but Rockwell, and there was humor in the corners and the small details. I think that sometimes I, along with others, get afraid of letting our sentimentality show. Why do so many of us do that? By the way, Jo, WHY do you say you are not a writer? I would beg to differ.

nomore said...

Thank you for the Great post ! Have a nice Weekend !!

Russell said...

I suppose the painting I associate most closely with Norman Rockwell is the one where the family is getting ready to eat the big Thanksgiving turkey. Grandma is setting the big platter down on the table with the huge turkey while all the people around the table are leaning forward in anticipation.

I have always felt food is a wonderful way to bring people together. And Norman Rockwell captured that idealistic way of life that most people strived to live but so often did not. But now I am getting too serious.

Enjoyed this post and had no idea he actually set up his work with real people. Interesting.

Jo said...

Jeanette, thank you. :-) I think illustrators are being recognized more for their art now than they were at one time, and there is a wonderul museum called the National Museum of Illustration. I think with art, as with music and food, and all sorts of things, people's tastes run to different things. But illustration is definitely an art form.

Nomore, thank you! You have a great weekend too. :-)

Russell, yes, that Thanksgiving painting is iconic, isn't it? I would love to see the photograph he used to set the painting up. Somehow the photographs pique my interest.

Carl said...

Wenderina and few friends of ours have been urging me for years to do a show of paintings and the photos I took that inspired them. It was wonderful to see these Rockwell images side by side.

Carl

Susan said...

I never knew that he photographed his subjects first. I agree with your assessment of his art as illustration, and also that nobody did it better. He created his own genre. The one of the little girl is indeed charming, as is the family doctor listening to his child patient's doll's heart.

Susan said...

Hmmm,that was me - heart in san francisco. Guess my wires got crossed.

Alicia said...

If it weren't for doctor's office I would have no idea who Norman Rockwell was...lol. It seems there is a picture of the little boy reading the doctors medical diploma with his pants down waiting patiently for his shot in every office I've ever been to.