Museum Thursday- Norman Rockwell


“Story illustrations shouldn’t give away the plot”- Norman Rockwell

This weeks museum thursday post features “Telling Stories: Norman Rockwell from the Collections of George Lucas and Steven Spielberg” I realize that many of my posts are from the portrait gallery/american art museum but I am literally a block away at work so it’s so easy for me to pop in for a quick run through single exhibitions.  What’s interesting about this exhibition is that it comes at Rockwell’s paintings from the perspective of movie-making.  Which is evident first through the collectors that are contributing to the show, Spielberg and Lucas.

“Rockwell was a masterful storyteller who could distill a narrative into a single frame. His pictures tell stories about the adventure of growing up, of individuals rising up to face personal challenges, the glamour of Hollywood and the importance of tolerance in American life. He created his pictures with strategies similar to those used by filmmakers.”-American Art Museum

The exhibition itself consists of 57 paintings and drawings and is accompanied by a 12 minute movie interviewing George Lucas and Steven Spielberg.  I love when artists of different mediums support and admire each other.  Both Lucas and Spielberg not only have respect for Rockwell as an artist, but a deep love and admiration for his work.  Each film-maker has collected pieces over the years that mean something to him, and the distinctions become clear as you watch the video.  Definitely worth the 12 minutes.

What I love about Rockwell’s work is what he is often criticized for, his depictions of wholesome middle america, which some argue never existed in the first place.  But the film-makers make a point that I think rings true with the pieces, it’s not that they are showing us the America that was, for in reality that place probably never existed, instead he allows us to view the country as he wished it would be, or hoped that it would be.  His focus on community gives us a sense of tranquility and truth that I think each of us can look upon and say, wouldn’t it be wonderful if things were that way.

But also I see the reality seeping through these cookie cutter images.  If we look closer we can see that while on the surface these images appear to be simple there is more going on.  One of the wall plaques mentioned that many of Rockwell’s magazine covers depicted the youth and naivete of new recruits during the war.  But its not that he was telling us that the war was simple, instead he is highlighting the attitudes of these young boys heading off to war.  There’s more there than some care to notice.  His paintings are layered in their content and meanings, in “jury room” upon first glance we may simply see a woman surrounded on all sides by men trying to convince her to choose in the jury room.  But then we learn that at the time this piece was created women were still not allowed to sit on a jury.  We realize that this painting illuminates the power that the female holds over the process and why the men are all up in arms over letting her be involved.

There’s more to his paintings than meets the eye. And that of course is part of the connection with film making.  As Lucas and Spielberg explain, as film-makers you are constantly developing ways to convey many things within a single image without having to blatantly explain each detail.  Rockwell’s paintings are the same.  Each conveys a myriad of messages.

Beyond magazine covers Rockwell created meaningful and moving works of art that can truly make us wonder, not only about what the paintings are trying to tell us, but also about the country that never was.  The hopes that so many held during this time.  the harkening back to a simpler era, that quite possibly never existed, yet allowed so many to dream about what the future might hold.

and now I’m getting all poetic on you guys.  but seriously you should check out this exhibition.  You have till January 2 2011 to see it, so you’ve got some time.

jury room
Jury Room


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