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The Great Art Of Norman Rockwell

Updated on February 24, 2010

Just hearing "Norman Rockwell" conjures up images of rosy-cheeked, everyday Americans, who look like they could have been pulled right off Main Street, U.S.A. That very ability to evoke images is what made Norman Rockwell one of the most widely recognized and popular American artists of the 20th century. And one who many argue helped forge a sense of American identity in the first half of the last century.

Rockwell's artistic career got its jump-start when he started working as an illustrator for the Saturday Evening Post and published his first cover in 1916, at the age of 22. Over the following 47 years, Rockwell produced 321 additional covers for the Post. (At the time, the Post was a major media force and could be found in one of every nine American households.)

His experience at the Post spurred his success for the remainder of his life. He created advertising for a variety of products, including Aqua Velva, and worked for Look magazine starting in 1961 for 10 years.

While at Look, Rockwell's happy-go-lucky paintings took a decidedly different turn: They focused on some of the causes he cared about most, like civil rights, poverty and travel to the moon. And in 1978, he died at the age of 84.

One of the most amazing aspects about Rockwell's work, especially now in the age of high technology, may be that every cover he did was actually a large painting, usually about 2.5 feet by 3.5 feet. People are usually floored to see the size of the paintings. They're used to seeing his images the size of a magazine page or smaller, so once they see the size and the detail of the actual painting they know how truly amazing they are.

Rockwell, a workaholic, was renowned for his attention to detail, he was a perfectionist of sorts. And the process he went through with every painting was extraordinary.

For example, in the painting, and Post cover, The Art Critic, Rockwell had sketched and revised the characters and expressions, sketched again and painted, then revised close to another 22 times to get it exactly the way he wanted it. This particular painting depicts an art student closely examining a painting with a magnifying glass. But it appears that the student is examining the subject's cleavage, and the woman in the painting, with a flirtatious look in her eye, smiles back at the student.

Rockwell's details were so refined and exact, one could mistake any of his paintings for a photograph.

In addition to his skill as a painter, Rockwell's ability to tell stories through his illustrations was almost unparalleled. Because many of his paintings were for magazine covers, Rockwell thought he had a 10-second window to tell a story on the cover. If someone had to spend even a half of a minute to figure out what was going on in the image, then you lost them, he thought. He really knew how to capture a moment that would be the most universal and most easily readable.

In fact, Rockwell covers were so popular that when they were featured, the Post ran many additional issues because they sold so well.

Rockwell prided himself on using everyday subjects in his works. The subjects are recognizably real people, and that could be why so many people could identify with him. He said himself, 'I couldn't paint a beautiful woman if I tried.

Although Rockwell was adored by mainstream America, many in the art world weren't so fond of his work, considering it kitschy or corny. Part of the reason was that at the beginning of his career in the 1920s and '30s, "modern" art was being introduced to America and was heading in the opposite direction from what he did: representational art. Many in the art world dismissed him without ever seeing his paintings, all they'd see was magazine tear sheets.

Ironically though, now decades later, Rockwell's works are being retrospectively admired and praised in some parts of the art world.

The hope is that art lovers who look at Rockwell understand the amount of care and loving detail Rockwell put into paintings that were not necessarily ever going to be seen in that form by the public. And with this understanding, people will see that Rockwell felt he was, indeed, an artist. Many would say a legend.

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    • William F. Torpey profile image

      William F Torpey 8 years ago from South Valley Stream, N.Y.

      Norman Rockwell's illustrations not only sold mega copies of the Saturday Evening Post but uniquely portrayed his era for posterity. My late wife and I used to love visiting the Rockwell Museum in Stockbridge, Mass. At that time they told us most of his works were stored in the cellar, but the museum apparently moved to a more spacious location. His illustrations make you feel you are right there in the scene depicted -- larger than life. Thanks, Hal, for this wonderful hub.

    • Hal Licino profile image
      Author

      Hal Licino 8 years ago from Toronto

      Thanks guys. Glad to see that there are many other Rockwell aficionados out there. Norman ROCKED-well! :)

    • De Greek profile image

      De Greek 8 years ago from UK

      Wonderful piece. Thanks for this :-)

    • stars439 profile image

      stars439 8 years ago from Louisiana, The Magnolia and Pelican State.

      great hub

    • Madison22 profile image

      Madison 8 years ago from NYC

      Great hub, I enjoyed reading and learning about Norman Rockwell. Thank You Hal!

    • drbj profile image

      drbj and sherry 8 years ago from south Florida

      Norman Rockwell's paintings were so realistic-looking you expected his subjects to move.

      You're so right, Hal. Rockwell was more than an illustrator. He was a painter and artist and he is a legend.

    • kowality profile image

      kowality 8 years ago from Everywhere

      Awesome Hub Hal. I've always loved Rockwell art

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