Gabriela Dellosso responds to Jerry Saltz's review ("Middle Americana") of the "Norman Rockwell: Pictures for the American People" show, which ran March 2002 at the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum:
Mr. Saltz engages in what I believe is destructive criticism. To state that Rockwell's paintings are dead, mechanical, washed out and have little space and limited color and no surface is a downright lie. The opposite is true, upon studying many of Rockwells paintings you would be suprised [by] the brilliant use of surface texture and variation. To say that his paintings were not meant to be seen in person is absurd. These textural effects did not reproduce in print, these subleties were meant to be seen in person. I have read much about Rockwell and I know he cared about making his pictures the best they could be, as a matter a fact, early on in his career he attached a sign to his easel that said "100%", which reminded him of not giving anything less than one hundred percent of himself to his paintings. He went beyond the call of duty in creating his paintings. So once again Mr. Saltz is completely wrong, the effects in Rockwell's paintings were never meant for reproduction, they were meant to be seen in PERSON. Often when artists see Rockwell's paintings in person for the first time they will tell you they were suprised [by] the subleties and variations in surface texture. I often hear, "You could not tell from reproductions how good a painter he really was." Rockwell was put down in his lifetime by many people like Jerry Saltz, it is no wonder that he had a complex. He painted in a time when the Modernist era was taking root, he was like a lone fish swimming upstream against the current. Aren't we all glad he was not drowned out by intellectual rhetoric displayed by people like Jerry Saltz.
If Jerry Saltz believes that Rockwells world is made of cardboard, then his heart is made of stone. Rockwell is resurfacing and I am glad.
Talk to you soon
[ The following is an extract taken from an ongoing discussion in the GoodArt mailing list about the ethical and aesthetic distinctions between commercial and fine art. ARC Founding Member and Trustee Brian K. Yoder argues against the proposition raised by Mr. Hermes that Rockwell's work is grounded in a disingenuous fantasy of America. Mr. Yoder marshals a rousing defence of both commercial art in general, and the integrity of Rockwell's vision of American life.
- Ed. ]
On Feb 16, 2004, at 1:04 PM, Thoth Hermes
Really? What do you think about art that has been created to glorify individuals (portraiture) or the Church? Why do you think those people pay artists to do work? Why is it any different when the purpose is to sell magazines, cars, or soap?
Why is that corrupt? Is it only non-corrupt if it condemns commerce and anyone who dares to employ anyone? If you ask me that's a completely corrupt point of view since it ignores all of the evidence that commerce is actually a good thing and that employers are no more immoral than anyone else. How can you express such blatant prejudice against a group of people and then condemn Rockwell (who was clearly dead set against racism) as "corrupt" and racist?
Here's the root of your disagreement. It has nothing to do with corruption of art, or quality, it is that you hate the ideas that Rockwell portrayed. You think that American society was sick and evil and Rockwell didn't. For what it's worth, I grew up in rural America and saw first-hand the kind of environment Rockwell was painting. I never saw or heard of the KKK, there indeed were practically no minorities where I lived (there was one black family in a nearby town and the father was a PhD physicist and I think his wife was a doctor), and nobody burned any crosses in their lawn. As for employers cheating employees, I think that your prejudice here is blatantly obvious. Employers are not less moral or fair than employees. Only naked prejudice (perhaps instilled by a little Karl Marx) can explain this insistence of yours that employers always be portrayed as evil. Of course there are jerks who own businesses, and even criminals. There are also jerks and criminals who are employees too. If you think however that this "truth" about the evils of businessmen is more important than things like the love of your grandparents, the thrill of space exploration, the virtues of honesty and justice, and the embarrassments and hopes of kids growing up then you don't have as much perspective on the human experience as you think.
Ads can lie, but they don't always. A spice that gives your apple pies the same flavor as your grandma's is just what it claims to be isn't it? The thrill of zooming down a hill on a sled in the winter is the same today as it was when you were a kid isn't it? The warmth and comfort of a good blanket or a roaring campfire is still the same as it was back then isn't it? Even if the artist captures the same feelings in a more intense and concentrated way than you actually experienced them or even could experience them, is that a lie? Or is it just an amplification of the truth? If artists were required to never make an idea or feeling any more intense than the real thing, they would be hog-tied, don't you think? Exaggeration and emphasis are key elements of good art, and I think that your complaint is not at all against exaggeration, but against the vision of a happy American life that Rockwell portrays. Your prejudice is against anything that portrays life (and American life in particular) in a positive light. That is what makes you reject Rockwell and nothing else about his style, skill, subjects, or method of making a living. Had he painted all of these things without being paid and merely for his own enjoyment you would still hate them, no? Had he painted (in his same style) nothing but miserable poor people, cruel Klansmen, and rapacious employers, you would have approved of his work, no?
Agree with his happy view of American society or not, artistic quality per se has nothing to do with ideology. We can for example look at some examples of Nazi or Soviet art that represent horrific ideas with which we vehemently disagree, but also recognize that some of them are excellent works of art anyway.
By the way, regarding your claim that he portrayed a world with no racial minorities in it, what do you make of these?
Clearly Rockwell was not a racist, or a "classist". His paintings make it clear that he was very much the opposite. He merely thought well of the United States and its people, and painted images that express that goodness. I think what gets under your skin is something Rockwell remarked on himself. He said "I can't paint evil sorts of subjects." And that is apparently something you have a hard time with. Perhaps you think that only evil is real. Perhaps you think that the good is never anything more than a fantasy. Whatever it is that you think about the nature of the good, it doesn't justify putting Rockwell down.Gabriela Dellosso - Figurative Award winner in the 1st International ARC Salontm Competition - has a word to add:
Hi Fred and Sherry,
I was just on your Norman Rockwell
page on ARC and I think it is wonderful. Thank you for including him in your museum. I am sick of all the people who put him down and say "he is just an illustrator" and he is not a real artist. Art has no boundaries, so what if Rockwell's paintings were illustrations, who cares. Who said that just because a painting has been commissioned as an illustration it can't be great art? Wasn't the Sistine Chapel commissioned by the church? Rockwell's work has all the elements of what great realist art should have: impeccable drawing and painting, unique point of view (whether you agree with it or not), stylistic perfection (you know a Rockwell when you see one) and that little extra something that indicates Genius. Rockwell can't be discarded in Art History, he presented us with a vision of America and followed through with it 100%. What is wrong with that??? His work transcended the fact that it was commisioned for illustrational purposes. There is no one else who did what he did, as well as he did.
Thanks Again for everything,