"A New York Treasure" --Village Voice

Hip to Be Square


Peter Schjeldahl has a kind word for Norman Rockwell:

Rockwell’s populous American mythos is ever more to be valued as the shared beliefs that used to gird it devolve into hellish divisions. His lodestar was Charles Dickens, naturalized to New England towns and to suburbs anywhere. And he drew and painted angelically, with subtle technical ingenuity, involving layered colors, that is still underappreciated. I took instruction on this point from de Kooning, who opened a book to a reproduction, handed me a magnifying glass, and made me peruse Rockwell’s minuscule but almost fiercely animated painterly touch. “See?” said de Kooning. “Abstract Expressionism!” Solomon reports that de Kooning remarked of Rockwell’s astonishing imitation of a Pollock drip painting, being viewed by a fancy gent in “The Connoisseur” (1962), “Square inch by square inch, it’s better than Jackson!” I agree, though the pastiche is unpersuasive overall. Rockwell had labored mightily to get the Pollock look right, not as a parody but in homage. He said, “If I were young, I would paint that way myself.” Never anti-modernist, he was always in awe of Picasso.

But—or really and—Rockwell was an obsessive-compulsive, anxiety-riddled, miserable hypochondriac, as at least two of his three schoolteacher wives and his three emotionally stunted children could testify. He didn’t behave badly so much as he hardly behaved at all, outside his studios in, successively, New Rochelle, New York; Arlington, Vermont; and Stockbridge, Massachusetts. His psychoanalyst—no less than the renowned developmental psychologist and pioneer of psychobiography Erik Erikson—is said to have remarked that Rockwell funneled all his happiness into his art. Solomon plumbs a suspicion (almost de rigueur in biography-writing lately) of homosexuality. Her verdict: temperamentally so, but moot in one who was puritanically shy of intimacy. I can almost imagine Edmund Wilson, whose “The Wound and the Bow” (1941) theorized a link between psychic trauma and creative genius, adding a chapter for Rockwell. (Wilson’s leadoff essay is about Dickens.) Certainly, there can be few more extreme endorsements of W.B. Yeats’s chilly dictum, “The intellect of man is forced to choose / Perfection of the life, or of the work.”


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1 GaryfromChevyChase   ~  Nov 7, 2013 1:37 pm

Rockwell's originals, when seen in person, are overwhelming. Technique is unbelievable.

Aside: When I saw the title here, I expected Huey Lewis!

2 Alex Belth   ~  Nov 7, 2013 1:41 pm

1) Got to keep you guessing, man!

3 Chyll Will   ~  Nov 7, 2013 2:58 pm

When I saw it, I immediately thought of this:

"I collect rare photographs... I have two... One of Houdini locking his keys in his car... the other is a rare picture of Norman Rockwell beating up a child."

- Steven Wright

4 rbj   ~  Nov 7, 2013 3:04 pm

Never knew any of that about Rockwell.

5 Sliced Bread   ~  Nov 7, 2013 3:43 pm

The only Huey Lewis tune I remember liking was the one from Back to the Future. Power of Love. Excellent 80s radio pop.
All of his tunes were schmaltzy, but that one worked for me for whatever reason.

6 Mr OK Jazz Tokyo   ~  Nov 7, 2013 8:56 pm

[5] I got nothing to say on Rockwell but as to Huey Lewis, he was here two months ago. I did not attend the gig but heard ticket sales were healthy and the band were cooking. Japan, land of riches for long forgotten 1970s and 80s US acts!

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