Saturday, October 11, 2014

The Episcopalian Imagination of Norman Rockwell by Patrick Toner

Contrary to a widespread misconception, Norman Rockwell was not a conventionally religious man. He was raised Episcopalian and spent many boyhood hours in church serving in the choir. But as an adult, Rockwell did not belong to a church at all, and seems to have entirely walked away from any kind of regular religious devotion. So where does this widespread misconception come from?
Well, think of “Saying Grace” or “Freedom of Worship,” for example: two of Rockwell’s best-known paintings. One depicts a grandmother and grandson at prayer in a crowded restaurant. The other depicts a group of floating heads praying. (I am not a fan of Rockwell’s floating head paintings. Unfortunately, he produced quite a few of them. But that’s neither here nor there.) Both are often mistaken for religious or devotional paintings. Viewers see images of prayer, and somewhat uncritically assume that the artist is depicting the sort of thing that he himself commonly does. But that’s not the case. And really, neither of these paintings is really about religion at all, and certainly neither is devotional. More properly speaking, they’re about tolerance. To the extent that there’s some kind of message in these pictures, it’s not “love God,” it’s “be respectful.” It’s a mistake, in other words, to think that since Rockwell is depicting people praying, that he himself must be a particularly prayerful sort of man. But this seems to be common mistake: thus, the widespread misconception.
Now, this misconception is widespread among Rockwell’s legion of fans, not among those few professional art critics who are willing to pay attention to Rockwell. (Their numbers are increasing, but they’re still a minority.) On the contrary, critical discussions of Rockwell tend to simply ignore religion altogether, on the assumption that since he was not a devout man, there would not be much by way of religious imagery in his work. But this is at least as gross an error as is the widespread misconception about Rockwell’s piety. Both views are wrong, and both views are distorting.
Read More at:

No comments:

Post a Comment