Rockwell Article

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Rockwell Article

From Brian K. Yoder

Published before 2005


On Feb 16, 2004, at 1:04 PM, Thoth Hermes wrote:
I'm not talking about the fees charged by the artist for his work.

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?

I'm talking about work that is done for the express purpose of use in advertising (or other works which are corrupted to this purpose).

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?

The problem with advertising is that it is inherently deceptive. Rockwell's work conjures up a fantasy of Virtuous America (something that never existed since it is a world of small town America in the 30s and 40s where the Ku Klux Klan was not a social and poltical force, where minorities did not exist, where workers are not cheated by their industrial employers),a nd then works by associating some product with that fantasy: if you buy this you will have the kind of wonderful life they had in the old days.

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.

But of course no product could give you that. So it is inherently a lie that tries to pass itself off as the truth, hence Kitsch.

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.

-- Brian