Recently I acquired a book of Norman Rockwell’s Saturday Evening Post covers. The book included some comments from the editor of the volume.
On the dust jacket the editor wrote, “..it was everyone’s dream of America; and it was unique because only Rockwell managed to bring it to life with such authority. This was, perhaps, an America that never existed and never could, but it was an America that the public wanted to exist. And Rockwell put it together from elements that were there for everyone to see, so that he was able to give it the look of documentary reality…. Rockwell helped preserve American myths, but, more than that, he recreated them and made them palatable for new generations. His function was to reassure people, to remind them of old values in times of rapid change.”
It has been noted by several American philosophers over time, Thomas Jefferson, Benjamin Franklin, Alexis de Tocqueville to name a few, that America is a mixture of both the ideal and the realistic. That fits well with the settlers who founded it, a mixture of Puritans looking to serve God, and adventurers looking to fill their purse. It is a combination that continues to influence our government and people.
Rockwell was able to capture that balance of ideas, portraying the common things of America, painting real moments people could associate with. The power of an image is to make us feel something, Rockwell’s paintings have the ability to touch the chords of anyone from a young girl to an old man.
I suppose that in the city there is a greater distance between Rockwell’s paintings and the reality they see around them. Yet, in the country, the balance of ideals and reality is still visible. Small town America is what most of Rockwell’s paintings typified. The rural world still retains the traces of a Rockwell illustration.
Now we live in the age of the smart phone. Technology dominates our lives and relationships. It can be tempting in this reality to discard the values of the past, saying that the old virtues are “irrelevant” to our modern world. Each generation has faced that choice, some have followed it, others did not. Rockwell’s work stands as a reminder of those values, values that transcend technology and time. The eternal importance of the family, of thankfulness, of love.
The simple things of this world will always remain. They will always confound the intellectual and the progressive, but will stand when all else falls. The paintings of Norman Rockwell illustrate those moments in life, reminding us of hopes, of happiness, and of a world we will never leave in our hearts.
In his time Norman Rockwell was rarely taken seriously as an artist, but critics allowed he was an excellent illustrator, something he never disputed, calling himself one. It was perhaps the best title for him. He had the gift of illustrating the American idea, touching it with reality.