America, Illustrated
New York Times, 2010-07-04

IN an age when Democrats and Republicans are barely on speaking terms,
you might not think that decades-old paintings of
freckled schoolboys and their loyal mutts
could help revive the conversation about what we value as a nation.
Yet Norman Rockwell’s cheerful America
has lately acquired a startling relevance
both inside and outside the art world,
in part because it symbolizes an era
when connectivity did not require a USB cable.


Happy Independence Day from the Washington Post
by Steve Sailer
isteve.blogspot.com, 2010-07-04

[The Blake Gopnik review which Steve Sailer discusses
appears below in this document,
along with the letters to the editor that the Post published in response.]

Norman Rockwell exhibit opens at the Smithsonian American Art Museum
By Blake Gopnik
Washington Post Sunday, 2010-07-04

This Fourth of July, let's celebrate courage.
It took courage to split from England,
courage to risk democracy and
still more courage to dream up a constitution to preserve it.

Courage has been the signature virtue of almost every great American:
Emily Dickinson was brave to warp grammar,
Louis Armstrong was brave to blow jazz and
Jackson Pollock was brave to paint splats.

Norman Rockwell is often championed as the great painter of American virtues.
Yet the one virtue most nearly absent from his work is courage.
He doesn't challenge any of us, or himself,
to think new thoughts or try new acts or look with fresh eyes.
From the docile realism of his style to the received ideas of his subjects,
Rockwell reliably keeps us right in the middle of our comfort zone.

That's what made him one of the most important painters in U.S. history,
and the most popular.
He had almost preternatural social intuitions,
along with brilliant skills as a visual salesman.
Over his seven-decade career, that coupling let him figure out
what middle-class white Americans most wanted to feel about themselves,
then sell it back to them in paint.
(He started working as an illustrator at 16, in 1910.
He died, still in the saddle at 84, in 1978.)

You could say that Rockwell painted the backdrop against which
American courage has had to play out.


[Gopnik says courage, I say radicalism.
Since the 1950s I’ve seen radicals like Blake Gopnik doing everything they can
to radicalize America,
and destroy the many virtues of that by-gone time,
values such as “Moderation in all things”.
Gopnik is the sort of white trash media figure
that the white trash Graham family has inflicted upon
our political and cultural life,
leading to cultural, social, economic, and foreign-policy
disaster after disaster.

And you know what?
Just as classical, nineteenth-century anti-Semitism predicts,
the chief exemplars of both inordinate greed and cultural radicalism,
tearing down the traditional social and cultural values,
are generally Jews.]


Art admirers find Norman Rockwell to their liking
Washington Post Letters to the Editor, 2010-07-09

Norman Rockwell’s work is no longer a cliché [“Afraid to make waves,” Arts & Style, July 4]. He has been replaced by a new cliché: dogmatic, postmodernist art critics who believe that anything may qualify as legitimate art (including a belch or scribble) as long as it is not a painting by Norman Rockwell. When Blake Gopnik dismissed technical skill and traditional technique in his quest for “new acts,” he failed to realize just how much of a tired stereotype he has become.

The taint of Rockwell’s commercial sponsors has dissipated over the years, so the artist can now be viewed more objectively by those with an open mind to do so. If Gopnik had some of the “courage” that he claims Rockwell lacked, he would see beyond his personal grudges with Rockwell’s content and recognize a contemporary art scene that is self-indulgent, decadent and listing toward irrelevance. Time for “new acts,” indeed.

David Apatoff, McLean

When a boy, I waited each week for the mailman to bring the Saturday Evening Post. Many issues featured Norman Rockwell covers, which I studied for their self-contained stories.

When I got to The Post’s July 4 retrospective, I recognized the illustration as Rockwell’s even before finding his name. He was that kind of artist. Like the boy in the illustration, I remembered my fear atop the diving tower of Olympic Pool in my Columbus, Ohio, neighborhood. My memory took me back to the irregular appearance in the magazine of the adventures of Alexander Botts, the traveling salesman of Earthworm tractors whose letters to the home office each ended with a cliff-hanging situation.

Those days of the late ‘30s and early ‘40s were times that Blake Gopnik obviously does not understand. His America is about “equal room for Latino socialists, disgruntled lesbian spinsters, foul-mouthed Jewish comics” and, we are to understand, critics like him. Gopnik also averred that Rockwell’s “Freedom of Speech” painting -- which he might rightly have labeled propaganda -- “doesn’t invoke a communist printing his pamphlets or an atheist on a soapbox.” Those images might fit with the definition of free speech, all right, but the painting gets closer to the real constitutional guarantee of the right to criticize government with impunity.

Rockwell might not rank in the top tier of artists, but his craft pleased so many Americans that he is worthy of a retrospective. He might have whetted the artistic appetites of hundreds of thousands more of his fellow, cliché-loving Americans. The fact of the current show at the Smithsonian American Art Museum indicates that Rockwell may have some staying power.

Carl Eifert, Alexandria

Norman Rockwell regarded himself as an “illustrator” who told a story through his work. He did this superbly.

Why is Blake Gopnik’s article more about his political view of the real America
and less about judging Rockwell’s artwork on its merits?
The point is the work itself, not whom or what Gopnik admires.

Sue Zacharias, Fayetteville, Pa.

My sincerest thanks to Blake Gopnik,
who, in his review of the Norman Rockwell exhibit,
taught me about what constitutes “real” art.
Until now, I didn’t realize that viewing art was supposed to be
an arduous, unpleasant exercise in “challenging” myself.
I simplistically believed that art could be admired for
its aesthetic quality, its technique,
the emotions it elicits or the story it tells.
Now I understand that
even clever, expressive, masterfully rendered images
by a wildly popular commercial artist --
because they don’t depict strife, chaos, ambiguity
or the darker realities of life --
are merely the “pandering,” “tepid” clichés of a mercenary hack.
And now that I know that Rockwell’s paintings constitute artistic “sin,”
I (and no doubt throngs of would-be art enthusiasts)
will know to avoid museums and galleries,
where pretentious art critics might think me a simpleton or a sucker.

Rebecca Frank, Oakton

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