The Problem We All Live With

Over the years, I have developed some strangely stubborn (and generally pessimistic) ideas about certain artists, writers, music. While I can’t identify the sources, I suspect many grew out of knee-jerk cynicism and stayed because I never actively challenged them.

Occasionally, they jump up and force me to re-evaluate. The latest is Norman Rockwell, who I have always, with absolutely no conscious thought, considered a bland reflection of mass culture. When we moved here and realized that the Norman Rockwell Museum was not far away, I rolled my eyes. Then this weekend, while compiling a list of things to keep us occupied over the rest of the long winter weekends, I checked out the website.

Thanks to ProjectNorman, more than 4000 works by the artist have been digitized and are available for viewing at the museum’s web site. Included are his most famous works (most of it the kitchiest — I still stand by that) along with sketches, correspondence and lesser known paintings. It was by looking through those — the paintings I’d never seen before and some of the sketches — that I began to revisit my earlier impression.

His work is extremely accomplished, and while much of it is not exactly my taste, I was struck by his decision, later in his career, to branch out and tackle more controversial topics. The Problem We All Live With, for example, was painted in 1963 for Look magazine and was very controversial in is topic, a black girl being escorted to school by US Marshalls. Later, he illustrated the murder of civil rights workers in Pennsylvania.

His illustrations, also, are worth a look, many of them rich and detailed (though difficult to appreciate online because of the Museum’s imprinted logo). I’m looking forward to seeing them in person.

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