January 15, 2014

Was Norman Rockwell Gay Or Is This Just Innuendo To Sell A Book?

Was Norman Rockwell Gay, 
Or Is This Just InnuendoTo Sell A Book?

 I will pass on reading Deborah Solomon’s Book on Norman Rockwell but here in my blog I will comment on her premise that Norman Rockwell had homoerotic feelings.  I watched a review of the book on the Colbert Report and followed it up with a Google search and I have listed below the articles I read on the review of her book. Concerning the accusation that he had sexual feelings towards men is a great way to get attention and to sell her book. Would this book have gotten this amount of attention if not for this remark?
Normon Rockwell: Beyond the Easel

Since posting this blog a few of people have commented to me that it does not matter whether he was attracted to men in a sexual way because he is a great artist; case closed. And while I do agree it does not matter what Norman Rockwell's inclinations were, I think it is important to artists that their work be regarded in the manner it is intended and that we do not interject our own (particulary sexual) interpretations into the art. 

Freedom of Worship

One common misinterpetation in art is that Lord of the Rings was allegory about World War II. To this the author JRR Tolken replied that it was not true and that he hated allegory in all forms. This false notion was refudiated by Tolkin himself, unfortunatly Norman Rockwell cannot have this opportunity.

JRR Tolkin 1916

I think it is strange that an art ciritic who usually writes about modern art would be chosen to write a biography and critique about Norman Rockwell, a painter in a realist manner. Writers of Modern art, especially abstract art, do have a way of  reading all sorts of things into a painting; how else would they get away with convincing people a solid black or white painting is art without their complex conceptual ideas explaining the validity of the piece.

 Kazimir Malevich Black Square on a White Field, 1915

Mark Rothko’s black canvases in the light

 But with Norman Rockwell and most other realist paintings, the work is self evident what you see is all you need to know, you don't need deep psycological insights into the artists motives to explain the piece, just look and and take the time to experience what you feel about the painting.

 I have several books on Norman Rockwell that describe how his paintings came about from start to finish and some have great sequential photographs of his work, in progress. One book in particular covers his use of the photograph and how he uses his models in the painting.  If you are interested you can do a search for these books, they are probably out of print but you may buy them for a reasonable price in the second hand book market. The one book I have on hand is Norman Rockwell Illustrator, by Author L. Guptill. You may also look for books from the Norman Rockwell Museum Store. 

The one thing that I did learn about this artist from my books is he sent people drawings and paintings just because they wrote that they admired them and that he was considered a generous and humble man.

Norman Rockwell: 1894-1978

Ms Solomon used the painting below in particular to represent her view that Norman Rockwell had homoerotic feelings towards men. About the sailor touching the other sailor's knee, this is an artistic device to connect the two people, it is not a subtle gay pass but friends do occasionally touch each other in emotional support.  People now look at two friends and wonder, are they a couple? Whether shopping for a couch or picking out a pet together, they may just being friends hanging out, offering advice and who cares anyway?

 Heterosexuals have bad marriages, divorce and problems and it doesn’t make them gay, Ms Solomon; just dysfunctional and it certainly does not indicate a homosexual leaning as she impliied.

Norman Rockwell's art tended to be whimsical, filled with pathos; he spoke to the heart of Middle America. He stated in one of the books I read that he liked to use teens in his paintings because they were awkward; I suspect he leaned towards drawing teen boys because, like most great writers, his art is somewhat autobiographical; he drew from his own life and what he knew and what he personally experienced at such an awkward and disconcerting time of life.  He said in one book which I read that he often avoided middle aged people because he was not able to make them as sympathetic or comical like he could when he portrayed the elderly and the young.

Ms Solomon said that he was a figure painter and most figure painters like the ones she mentioned in the Colbert Report; Picasso, Matisse, and Gaugan all painted women as their main subjects. What Deborah Solomon did not recognize is that while Norman Rockwell does paint figures, he was a commercial illustraitor who in the fine art world would be more accurately categorized  as a Genre Painter; one who paints slices of life with the intent of showing us views into people's lives.

Norman Rockwell: The Problem We All Live With
 Genre Painters have a more complex illustraitive motive for their art than the figure painter and their work often has humorous, social or spiritual statements. 

Two Genre Painters from the past: 

Jan Steen: The Eve of St Nicholas

First is Jan Steen was a Dutch Genre Painter of the 17th c.

 Jan Steen showed psycological insight and humor in his genre paintings which is similar to Norman Rockwell's art. In this painting, "The Eve of St Nicolas", we see a family recieve their gifts only on boy is crying, he apparently was bad and recieved only a birch rod. 

Jean Baptists Greuze was a French Genre Painter in 18th c.

 The Village Bride is a scene of the "lower class" is a staged allegory with a pictorial sermon. 

Jean Baptiste Greuze: The Village Bride

I remembered Genre Painters from my college days in art history class in the 70's, so I looked up the two artists who were referenced on the subject so I now can share the information with you so many  years later.

While at college I spent a required year studying H.W. Janson's Book, History of Art for my BFA degree from The University of Akron, I had a wonderful teacher, Earl Ertman. 

Further Links To Explore:

Books: Was Norman Rockwell Gay?
Posted: 11/14/2013 6:58 pm
$28; Farrar, Straus and Giroux