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Norman Rockwell and John F. Kennedy


John Simkin
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In her book, Norman Rockwell (2005), Karal Ann Marling argued: "Norman Rockwell is America's best loved artist... America's best-loved artist was an illustrator who, in a career that spanned some 60 years of the last century, almost never painted a picture that wasn't intended to be an ad, a cover, a calendar, a a gloss on a magazine story, or a Christmas card. Indeed, the for-profit context in which Norman Rockwell laboured so successfully may make him the most American of all artists in a period that both witnessed and celebrated the primacy of American commercial enterprise. By the mid-1930s, Rockwell was the most famous illustrator in America, a figure whose success prolonged the life of the "Golden Age" of commercial picture-making well into the 20th century. The economic Depression of the period hardly touched Rockwell; its effects were curiously absent from his work, for the most part, too, as if Norman consciously aimed to distract and reassure his vast following."

Rockwell has a reputation as being non-political. This is untrue. In fact, he was a left-wing supporter of the Democratic Party. In the 1930s he was a passionate supporter of Franklin D. Roosevelt and the New Deal. His employer, the Saturday Evening Post, did not share his political views and refused to publish his political drawings. There were even cases of some of his art-work was repainted to remove the political comment from his work.

The same thing happened during the John F. Kennedy presidency. The assassination of Kennedy shocked Rockwell into action. His last illustration for the Saturday Evening Post was a portrait of Kennedy on 14th December, 1963 (see below). He now joined Look Magazine, as a commentator of current affairs. Rockwell's first double-page illustration for the magazine, The Problem We All Live With (14th January, 1964) was one of his most memorable paintings. It shows Ruby Bridges, who in 1960, when she was 6 years old, became involved in the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) campaign to integrate the New Orleans School system. When she entered William Frantz Elementary School in 1960 she became the first African-American child to attend an all-white elementary school in the South.

Rockwell also painted Southern Justice, that dealt with the deaths of three Congress on Racial Equality field-workers in Meridian, Mississippi, Michael Schwerner, James Chaney and Andrew Goodman, on 21st June, 1964. The painting appeared in Look Magazine on 29th June, 1965. The magazine also published several of his paintings that reflected his opposition to the Vietnam War.

http://www.spartacus.schoolnet.co.uk/ARTrockwell.htm

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It's fascinating to me the way JFK's assassination tipped this gentle and respected artist into becoming more of a radical activist for many of the causes JFK believed in and worked towards.

In many ways, I think much of the turmoil of the sixties can be followed back to Nov. 22. While these terrible men who killed the President succeeded in overthrowing our government, people sensed the truth, and many made a stand where and when they could.

Norman Rockwell today is looked at as a traditional, conservative painter, (as far as his approach to painting goes). He is remember mostly for the very comfortable images of America that seem to paint a tranquil and idylic country.

It's ironic we today forget these more important statements he made as he reacted to the murder of President Kennedy and his anguish at the corruption of the country he loved.

Thanks for the great and interesting thread.

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America's best-loved artist was an illustrator who, in a career that spanned some 60 years of the last century, almost never painted a picture that wasn't intended to be an ad, a cover, a calendar, a a gloss on a magazine story, or a Christmas card.

In this, Rockwell was following the modus of his most important commercial influences, the book illustrator N. C. Wyeth and his artistic family. Rockwell and the Wyeths operated in the tradition of the Currier & Ives lithography firm, an important mass-producer of Americanist icons in the 19th century. The bounds of art and kitsch are blessedly blurred in this lineage, and the line climaxes in that beautiful and terrifying statement, "The Problem We All Live With."

Edited by David Andrews
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It's fascinating to me the way JFK's assassination tipped this gentle and respected artist into becoming more of a radical activist for many of the causes JFK believed in and worked towards.

In many ways, I think much of the turmoil of the sixties can be followed back to Nov. 22. While these terrible men who killed the President succeeded in overthrowing our government, people sensed the truth, and many made a stand where and when they could.

Norman Rockwell today is looked at as a traditional, conservative painter, (as far as his approach to painting goes). He is remember mostly for the very comfortable images of America that seem to paint a tranquil and idylic country.

It's ironic we today forget these more important statements he made as he reacted to the murder of President Kennedy and his anguish at the corruption of the country he loved.

Thanks for the great and interesting thread.

It seems strange that it was not until the age of 70 that Norman Rockwell got to paint what he really wanted to do. It is the problem of any artist. Success is the easy part. Earning enough money doing what you really want is the difficult thing. Have you had this problem in your career?

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What success? That's a funny idea. There can come a time when the rapid painting ,in a short time, a number of cheques that can finance an artists life style. This is not at all easy to achieve and sometimes the compromises are not worth it but I think it is possible to maintain integrity and possibly that is one of the main difficulties.

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