Rockwell a subversive artist?
December 25, 2008 3:04 PM   Subscribe

I seem to remember reading somewhere, or possibly listening to a story on NPR, which talked about Norman Rockwell being a subversive artist. The tone was of a researcher having talked to his contemporaries and concluding that Rockwell was in a way being ironic or sarcastic in his paintings. I also vaguely remember hearing/reading that there were small clues in some of his paintings indicating this. Any help finding more information on this?

I'm mostly stuck at my parent's house for the next day or so, and a massive Rockwell book sparked this memory. Thanks in advance.
posted by efalk to Media & Arts (8 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
Well, theres a certain wry wit to a lot of his work, but I don't think he was being in the slightest bit ironic or sarcastic with this, except possibly in his choice of title.
posted by Artw at 3:12 PM on December 25, 2008

This was probably a review of the book "Norman Rockwell: The Underside Of Innocence," by Richard Halpern. Here's a bit from a quote from an Amazon review of the book:

Rockwell's insistent, undying "jokey inventiveness," evidenced more directly in his autobiography "My Adventures as An Illustrator," is seen in the often overlooked details of his paintings. The woman in "Rosie the Riveter" celebrating American women's role in the war effort of WWII has Irish facial features which identify her with the ethnic and working classes, not the middle-class matrons, businessmen, and shop owners who see their mainstream, traditional values represented by Rockwell. Also, Rosie's muscular arms go against the typical image of women as slender and in need of male protection. Halpern similarly interprets details of other paintings to find symbols or intimations of homosexuality, voyeurism, and other sexually-laden topics. Halpern does not go so far as to make Rockwell out to be lascivious or meanly subversive. The author does, however, argue and abundantly demonstrate the point that Rockwell's paintings are more complex, more Freudian, than this painter openly admitted to and than nearly all viewers realize.
posted by Dee Xtrovert at 3:47 PM on December 25, 2008

This old thread is about Halpern's book and some reactions to it.
posted by notquitemaryann at 3:52 PM on December 25, 2008

As I mentioned in the thread notquitemaryann linked, there's a better book than Halpern's out there: Norman Rockwell: Pictures for the American People. It came out years earlier and collects thoughtful essays that acknowledge the complexity, social satire and dark humor in many of Rockwell's paintings, without the over-the-top "ooh! Rockwell has a sexy dark side!" nonsense that accompanied the release of Halpern's book.

There's definitely more going on in Rockwell's stuff than the "such a wonderful nostalgia painter" crowd sees, that's for sure. I don't think the clues are very small or particularly well-hidden, either. But I'll refrain from repeating myself; the old thread covers it nicely.
posted by mediareport at 4:47 PM on December 25, 2008

I have the same recollection as you do, and I think the idea that he was subversive is probably an invention. But his work is certainly multi-dimensional. It's very reflective of many human frailties and prides. If shows us both as we are, and who we think we are. It's brilliant.
posted by gjc at 6:12 PM on December 25, 2008

Did someone already link to the piece on Rockwell in the New York Review of Books from a few years ago? Not all of their archived content is available to non-subscribers, but I really enjoyed the essay and seem to recall that it tangled with some of these questions. It's worth seeing if you can hunt it down on their site.
posted by foxy_hedgehog at 7:03 AM on December 26, 2008

On the Media interviewed Halpern about his book in a segment called Not So Innocent that ran on NPR stations around October 5th, 2007. That might be what you're remembering.
posted by pb at 9:05 AM on December 26, 2008

This Ask question rang a bell with me when I first read it, and now that I check out the answers I recall why: I've read Johns Hopkins press releases about Halpern, where he teaches and I went to school.

Here's one about Santa
A lengthy piece that refers to a Boston Globe article, which is also linked to from the previous thread, but I thought I'd put it here for completeness' sake.
posted by knile at 8:54 PM on December 29, 2008

« Older Can I be a Christian if I don't believe in Christ?   |   Playing PC streams through home stereo Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.