“The contradictory works of storied illustrator Norman Rockwell resonate in an age of anxiety”, or so the article began. Well enough anyway. But downhill from there. There is a process of historical revisionism underway that seeks to place Rockwell solidly within the fold of great American fine artists like say,James McNeil Whistler, Hopper and others.Which is fine, except the admitted reasoning behind it does not add up. There is something missing.
There is not a question of dismissing his work, as sappy kitsch which it indeed is on one level, though Rockwell’s work is more complex than given credit for, and there are certainly some deeper truths found within the kitsch, the teary sentimentality, the cult of innocence and the innocence industry in general which is almost a trademark of American culture; there is substantial artistic merit in the work; the coded messages intrinsic to a combination of good design and illustration and …. yes its art. There is a kind of collusion, a complicity between what we consider brave avant-garde art and what is considered debased middle-brow commercial culture. The chasm is not that wide and both are attached to the ruling class, the tastemakers, by money…
The real artistry of Rockwell seems to be embedding elements of the uncomfortable into the realm of the seemingly wholesome as apple pie. There is eroticism and even homoeroticism under the layers of teeming goodness in this imaginary world. There is an enigma to his work that the recent article by Kate Taylor alludes to but only skims the surface of the complex message, as if this message is a taboo subject:
Those four men form an anxious little posse of civic hope: The liberal optimism that Rockwell would so emphatically express in his later work was already well-established in the Post covers. Famed images, such as that of a grandmother and grandson bowing their heads in prayer in the midst of a busy train-station restaurant, or a church-bound mother and her children tripping by their pajama-clad dad on a Sunday morning, all send a message of tolerance. In the words of pop culture critic Dave Hickey, an early champion of the current Rockwell revival, these images say “Hey, people are different. Get used to it.” …
…Although Rockwell is always called an illustrator, and did illustrate both magazine stories and books such as The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, the Post covers were self-contained anecdotes the artist himself devised and executed in an intensely narrative style. He is perhaps better described as a genre painter, living in an era in which that category had all but disappeared, but creating art that harkens back to the Dutch masters, to the French satirist Honoré Daumier or to Cornelius Krieghoff, that classic 19th century painter of daily life and human foible in the New World. Read More:http://m.theglobeandmail.com/news/arts/norman-rockwells-complex-message/article2356664/?service=mobile
The message of Rockwell is based on the thematics of innocence and loss, as if our voyeuristic regard notes the innocence, the morality, the goodness narrative in all its saccharine splendor, but secretly or unconsciously enjoys the more ambiguous subject matter which at its core is more profound than symbolic sexuality. It’s a disavowed sexuality, unsettling with overtones of the perverse., which unfortunately are also part of the fabric of American social life; the pop culture surface so brilliantly composed by Rockwell serving to sublimate and filter a deeper trauma and disconnected only superficially from a sexual energy which enjoys an exalted position, precisely because it is secret. Discarding the endless psycho-babble, there is some plausibility to the theory that Rockwell experienced some form of sexual abuse as a child and this is reflected in the work:
…For such benign images of apparent cliches to work and become ideographs of a lasting nature there would have to be sexual content, narrative and symbolism. Otherwise, image, like life itself, would be lacking in salt. … The idea that this artist, one of the most careful observers of the content of human body language that ever lived was not conversant with sexual symbolism, would be like suggesting that Ernest Hemmingway did not know the alphabet. Inundating the viewer with sexual symbolism and the like is the backbone of contemporary media art, image and advertising, of which Rockwell is a founding father; it is one of the ABC’s of contemporary media communication….Whatever the case, I believe that Rockwell may have been violated in some way by someone in authority, and that, like the boy who received the shot, he did not accept the experience and began examining the world in which he lived, looking for clues, leaving no rock unturned in a search of explanations. Such experiences create great artists; Norman Rockwell was one. Read More:http://richard-britell.blogspot.com/2007/08/homoeroticism-in-paintings-of-norman.html
So, Rockwell can be considered a great artist, but a great artist for reasons not attributed to him. Ultimately, it was an exploration of what was behind the sunny view of American life, beyond the liberal reactionism , back to the founding myths, the boundaries and limits of American identity, the capacity to reinvent human foible within the context of the New World, and of civic hope and liberal optimism often undercut by deep suffering and personal crisis.
WOLFGANG: Do you think Lacan was right when he made the paradoxical statement that lesbians are the only true heterosexuals?
SLAVOJ: I think the categorization of heterosexuality versus homosexuality is totally wrong. There is a radical asymmetry between male and female homosexuality. Paradoxically, lesbian sex fits the standard phallocentric logic much more neatly than gay sex. I think that lesbianism is enacted for an absent phallic presence. Even some radical lesbian thinkers — like Judith Butler — who otherwise hate me, concede this point. Whereas the third element in male homosexuality is feminine, so gay sex is the truly feminist thing to do — and, in turn, standard heterosexual sex is the most homosexual act. It seems to me that gay penetration realizes and confronts the phantasmic support of straight sex too directly — that’s why it is so unbearable for many.
WOLFGANG: Is that why the idea of being penetrated is so traumatic for the straight male? Is it the dream that haunts them in the background?
SLAVOJ: Freud said beautifully that a dream-come-true is a nightmare. Whenever we make love, we have obscure fantasies sustaining us. But they have to remain in the unconscious. The most horrible thing that can happen is to have those fantasies realized. Read More:http://www.indexmagazine.com/interviews/slavoj_zizek.shtml