Monday, April 28, 2008


Once upon a time, an artist was born in a shabby apartment in a bleak part of NY City. He grew up playing in vacant lots littered with junk. He watched neighbors beating their wives in the street. Once a drunk died in front of him on the sidewalk. The boy learned at a young age to call Jews "kikes" and Italians "wops." Sometimes he watched from the roof of his apartment as street gangs battled below. For amusement, he would spit on pedestrians walking by. Quitting school (he was always a poor student) he leased a spare room in a whore house.

That artist was Norman Rockwell.

Was Rockwell's sweet vision of small town America nothing but a cynical charade?

I don't think so.

We each perceive the world through our own personal filter. Sometimes artists employ a more active filter than others; perhaps it's a natural defense to their chronic poverty and lack of success with the opposite sex. Below, some artists have fun with the disparity between reality and their artistic vision:



Saul Steinberg

Personally, I don't think think Rockwell was trying to con his audience. His art had less to do with the illusion of reality than the reality of illusion.


jb. said...

"I think his style has less to do with the illusion of reality than the reality of illusion."


ces said...

I've always loved Rockwell's paintings. Very nostalgic. I've even done a couple of them in needlepoint.

I wonder - since he was the cover artist for The Saturday Evening Post, whether or not that influenced his work, and if yes, to what degree.

Blogart said...

When it comes to those matters, I never fail to think of the intricanted and flourished arabesques of the nomads beduines, who had nothing but desert sand to see, and the geometrical art of the brazilian indians, who had all that exuberant forest in front of them.

Anonymous said...

Rockwell always said that he painted life as he would like it to be.

Also, he found the kind of life he was painting later on when he moved out of New York to Vermont.

What's your obsession with the sordid?

Anonymous said...

The Post had a great effect, as its conservative, nostalgic look was one Rockwell had to follow. In the end he allowed it to define him and his career. Within that image or (on occasion) outside it, Rockwell was a great writer - with pictures, not with words.

David Apatoff said...

JB-- bless you!

ces, the Post clearly had to appeal to a grass roots readership, and the subjects, while often very smart, were not avant garde. At the same time, the cover of the Post was the most formidable perch for an artist in the United States. Many of those covers were cutting-edge brilliant, and the competition was cut throat. Leyendecker, Wyeth, Rockwell-- these artists were giants.

Blogart, that's a fascinating contrast.

David Apatoff said...

Anonymous (first), I hope Rockwell found the kind of life he wanted when he moved to Vermont. I strongly recommend the tour of his studio, and the beautiful Norman Rockwell museum, to everyone. Yet, despite his pastoral surroundings, psychological problems, depression, divorce (and allegedly even suicide) followed Rockwell to Vermont. One more example, as if another were needed, of how appearances can be deceiving.

PS-- "sordid"?

Diego Fernetti said...

"I think his style has less to do with the illusion of reality than the reality of illusion."
Geez, David, you made me remind that character "The Sphynx" from the movie "Mistery Men"
But I agree, a good artists can make us believe anything.

David Apatoff said...

anonymous (second), I agree that Rockwell was a terrific writer. If he didn't have great sensitivity for human nature, his paintings would not have been nearly so popular.

dfernetti, the blue dog howls by night.

ces said...


I have to admit I'm not familiar with Leyendecker. I recognize the name, but have no idea what his art looks like. Can you point me to a good website with his art?


Anonymous said...

David - blue dog?

Great read, though - gotta love Rockwell, I feel that in the world of writing about art, Norman Rockwell is one of the writer's gimmes: everybody knows and loves his stuff.

David Apatoff said...

ces, I have posted a number of Leyendecker studies photgraphed from the original paintings. You can find them
here, and here, and of course,here.

Tony Shasteen said...

I always find it interesting to see people's work and know what they were going through in their lives at the time. It gives you a little window into that person's brain and how they work. It has nothing to do with an illustrator's "sordid" past.

I attended the J.C. Leyendecker traveling show a couple weeks ago. I posted as many pictures as possible here:

Melody Lea Lamb said...

What a great little article! It grabbed my attention and then surprised me in such a powerful way.

David Apatoff said...

Tony, thanks for the images; it is always great to have another place to find Leyendecker pictures. I share your appreciation for his work, and I enjoyed your commentary.

Melody, thanks very much! It's so kind of you to comment.

Anonymous said...

I just love the Steinberg. Always did, Always will.

Anonymous said...

Did you know how the rich use art to double their money ad pay no tax? Just came accross a swiss website-

now it all makes sense......