Sunday, July 11, 2010

Norman Rockwell (Steven Spielberg and George Lucas)

I've never been a big fan of Norman Rockwell's work. The earnest American ideals and the 40's/50's sentimentality has never held a strong appeal for me. The narrative makes me suspicious as well. Are these reflections and idealizations of existing values or scripts with sociopolitical agendas to live by? On a related noted, I always viewed "Sex in the City" as being a contemporary form of Norman Rockwell. Narratives about characters pursuing idealized lives which, more than reflecting contemporary society, supplied an updated script for people to live by, replete with props (drinks: cosmos, shoes: Manolo Blahniks) settings (Meatpacking District) and vernacular slang.

Despite my personal preferences there is a lot to be said and much to think about when considering Norman Rockwell's work. His paintings are masterpieces of storytelling and art direction. It seems that Rockwell thought of himself as a movie director, painstakingly casting the models he used as reference and selecting the props and clothes himself. He would go so far as to buy clothes from people on the street to get the right piece for a painting. In essence, he meticulously crafted single frame stories.

American directors Steven Spielberg and George Lucas are avid collectors of Rockwell's work. Their collections are on display at the Smithsonian in an exhibit titled Telling Stories: Norman Rockwell from the Collections of George Lucas and Steven Spielberg. The podcast on the Smithsonian site features interview's with both. Their breakdowns of the pieces in the exhibit are great, the kind only a director could give you.

Below left: "Freedom from Fear" by Norman Rockwell. Right: A tribute to Rockwell and still from Spielberg's film "Empire of the Sun".

Below: 3 stills from "Minority Report". Moments of idealistic Americana appear often in Spielberg's films. In this scene a classic family at the dinner table moment is punctured by the action of the film. (Tom Cruise's character Tom Anderton, clinging to a police officer wearing a jet pack, pounds and then bursts through the floor of the dining family's apartment.)

Related Links: Spielberg, Lucas Celebrate Rockwell's Iconic America

Vanity Fair Article: Norman Rockwell's American Dream.


kathleen said...

In Rockwell's own words: "Without thinking too much about it in specific terms, I was showing the America I knew and observed to others who might not have noticed."

he was married three times, divorced once and survived the other two, so he was no stranger to reality. My guess is he was painting what he saw was best in early 1900's America, virtues he felt we should aspire to.

I never liked Rockwell much, either, because his pictures were too clean, too stylized, and consequently too sterile and lacking in emotion, generally. I find it interesting that Edward Hopper painted in the same period, using a similar palette but to very different effect. The quote by Rockwell, above, could just as easily have come from Hopper.

Thomas Sherman said...

Rockwell's somewhat tumultuous life has gotten much more attention in Recent years. What I'm curious about is whether that controlling aspect of his personality that made him direct his work so meticulously spilled over into his personal life and if it manifested in pathological ways.

I'm reminded of an extremely controlling person we worked with in that past. Initials: S.E.