It’s a Norman Rockwell world out there, even for the haters

I heard about Blake Gopnik’s attack on Norman Rockwell (as part of his defense of the “Ants on Jesus” video), and actually started writing a post on the subject.  Life caught up with me, though, and I abandoned the post and doubt I’ll return to it.  Fortunately, Anchoress has been thinking about the subject, and I can’t do better than what she wrote.

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  • Murray Lawrence

    Blake Gopnik is nothing but a playback machine. It’s so old hat to hear art-ignorant lefties berate Norman Rockwell. I’ve heard it again and again ever since my  days at Music & Art High School in Manhattan decades ago. They also went after Andrew Wyeth big time, so much so that after his retrospective at the Whitney Museum was panned but good in the New York Times some years ago, there was hardly anyone to be seen at this extraordinary show when my wife and I went through the exhibition rooms. The last time I was at the new improved Museum of Modern Art in the city, an Edward Hopper and Wyeth’s “Christina’s World” had been moved from their pride of place to a narrow passage way, through which masses of people tromped to supposedly bigger and better things. Rockwell belonged to a world of great American illustration dating from Winslow Homer’s graphic work for Harper’s during the Civil War and extending through the Second World War, after which an international style took root in the wake of the modernist emigrés who fled Europe in 1940, including Mondrian and Max Ernst, among other celebrated painters who contributed to the demise of American realism and regional art. Considering the present state of public education, it’s hard to believe that my friends and I at M &A used to argue the merits of both schools of art, although I ended up thinking that great was great and that the arguments were pointless. As the new left gained ascendancy in the 60s and 70s, art, like everything else, became politicized in a way that it had never been before, although I have no doubt that Rockwell, like Wyeth, had his detractors long before. A few years ago, the Norman Rockwell Museum in Stockbridge had an amazing exhibit, in separate rooms, of Rockwell’s cover paintings for The Saturday Evening Post and Rockwell Kent’s visionary landscapes of the north, from upstate New York all the way to Greenland. And there they were, the foremost illustrative painter of small-town America and the William Blake and Friedrich Nietzsche-inspired Communist American painter of the frozen north, back to back and brilliant in their own very different ways.