I met Norman Rockwell in Nashville last week.
Throughout my life, I’ve brushed by his artwork and admired it just like countless other Americans. However, his delightful mixture of realism and caricature are nothing short of captivating on their original massive canvases. I don’t think I could have appreciated him more as a person or as an artist if he were alive and standing in the midst of that exhibit. His lifetime of artwork left behind footprints pooled with deep, reflective waters.
Our trip to the Norman Rockwell Exhibit at the Frist Center started out to be this week’s “Artist Date” as prescribed weekly by Julia Cameron in The Artist’s Way. It turned out to be more than just looking at the work of a master illustrator; it caused me to consider what it means to love your work, and what impact our creativity has on the world around us.
“The ’20s ended in an era of extravagance, sort of like the one we’re in now. There was a big crash, but then the country picked itself up again, and we had some great years. Those were the days when American believed in itself. I was happy and proud to be painting it.”
Rockwell lived through some of our history’s worst moments. He saw the real Great Depression, a world at war, and some of the darkest moments of the civil rights movement. Yet, he sought out, and found, the best part of us as a people. What’s even more important is that he magnified it for those of us who couldn’t see it.
Instead of painting glamorous people telling us who we ought to be, he told us stories about ourselves through the faces of the ordinary. Rockwell did what only master artists can do; he revealed the inside of a person by painting the outside. Rockwell took it one step further, he revealed a nation by painting its soul.
Perhaps the one most telling tidbit of information I learned about the man was that he worked every single day. Every single day. The only days he took off were Christmas and Thanksgiving–and then he only worked half the day. What does that tell you about him?
It tells me that Norman Rockwell was a man who never worked a day in his life.
Rather, he pursued a passion that was as much a part of himself as breathing. Why would anyone take a break from breathing? Or take a day off from living life to the fullest? That doesn’t mean it was effortless, nor that he paid a price for his labor–it means he did what he loved to do.
What Norman Rockwell left behind is a peek into the world as he saw it. A “Rockwellian” point of view some have come to mock. It shouldn’t be surprising that Rockwell’s name is slightly tainted by the same crowd that spits on Walt Disney or anyone, for that matter, who dares to embrace the notion that America is good.
It’s hard not to notice the contrast from one of his contemporaries, author George Orwell. Orwell also used his craft to reveal a world that he saw, and noted:
“We have now sunk to a depth at which restatement of the obvious is the first duty of intelligent men.”
Both men offered their art form to the universe–both stating the obvious, but seldom seen. Now Orwell’s world has drifted into our reality, and Rockwell’s world has faded into fantasy.
We owe it ourselves to follow their example and restate the obvious through the individual lens of our own creativity–who knows how it will affect those we leave behind.
But then, that’s not up to us is it? Our job is to create, and let the God of Creation use it as He will.
Photo credits WikiPaintings.org