T H E L E G A C Y O F N o r m a n R o c k w e l l
become obsessive about a painting he was working on, rushing back into his studio after hours of work to see if it resembled the way he had thought it looked a few hours before. The anti- dote to such a crisis was to appeal to the opinions of his wife, his friends, and his colleagues, whose support and suggestions eventually helped him finish a work. When even their support was not enough to overcome his doubts, he went for long,
LOOKING OUT TO SEA Oil on canvas, 1919. Although the old man and the boy are looking out at the coast, it appears as though it is the potential for adventure, and not the beauty of the scene, that has captured their attention. Rockwell largely ignored natural scenery in his early work, concentrating instead on characterization and action. TRAFFIC CONDITIONS Oil on canvas, first printed on the cover of The Saturday Evening Post, July 9, 1949. Rockwell’s scenes are typically centered around movement and life, his figures seemingly caught mid-stride as they deal with some adventure of daily life. He used real models to ensure authenticity in the faces and body language of his characters. This scene is far busier than a typical Rockwell painting and offers countless mini-scenes within the larger picture.
illustrations known as “The Four Freedoms” reinterpreted the global struggle as a struggle for familiar American ideals. As consistent as Rockwell’s work is, one might expect him to have lived and worked without serious conflict. Yet like many prolific artists he constantly struggled with anxiety about the cre- ative process. To arrive at an idea, he sometimes drew and destroyed a dozen sketches, then went to bed in anguish, and began the next day in doubt. One of the reasons that coming up with a workable idea was so difficult was that each idea for him had to be in itself a complete vignette—a one-panel story with characterization, setting, mood, and a one-line joke or piece of irony about the human condition. Once he had an idea, it was not unusual for him to be crippled by the feeling that a canvas he was work- ing on had suddenly turned “all wrong.” He would
brooding walks until he was able again to face the interior battle that only he could see being played out on the canvas. Rockwell went through periods when he bemoaned the fact that he had “sold out.” On a couple of occasions he confessed to journalists that he was still waiting for the opportunity to produce a great work of art. At various points in his life, he tried to participate in the Modern- ist revolution in painting that had taken over high culture, but in most cases the results were unsatisfactory. He was an admirer of the works of Picasso and Matisse, but he never achieved a parallel vision, and eventually he admitted to himself that this was due more to predilection than to lack of skills, originality, or talent. In1960Rockwell said, “Maybe Igrewupand found the world wasn’t the perfectly pleasant place I had thought it to be. I unconsciously decided that if it
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