tv Book Discussion on American Mirror CSPAN November 17, 2013 8:00pm-9:06pm EST
[inaudible] no, but it was fun to be a part of kansas and i heard earlier we talked about preserving the voices of elders and that is important and i was so happy that i got to do that. it's your history. it's part of what you grew up with. it was an honor to do. [applause] >> thank you. >> now wan book tv deborah solomon recounts the life of norman rockwell known for his portraits and "saturday evening post." she examines his professional life and personal life which were marked by bouts of depression. the talk on the norman rockwell museum in stockbridge massachusetts is about an hour.
[applause] >> thank you for that fabulously gracious introduction and i'm glad. i can't believe that the archive has been digitized now that i'm done. i wore gloves fy read through the papers but it's hard to turn pages. i'm glad to know that other people can now do it in ten minutes. i came to this book from the historical background and i studied history at cornell and attended college in the 70's at a time when abstract
expressionism was seen as the high point as the great savior because it was said he shifted that capital. they have a mystical flying through the sky shifting the capitol. and the studied rockwell and i didn't really think about rockwell until other people started thinking about him first such as robert rosenblum who organized the show at the guggenheim museum in 2001. and i was immediately taken by the work. partly because i had been tired of spending my intellectual life at greenwich village in the 50's. i felt like i can't think again about that. his word struck me as really
interesting. so i sort of took it started when i did a piece for "the new york times" magazine about rockwell and the people and i received a call on a monday morning out of the blue. there was interesting. why don't you write a biography. and you are probably joking. from the next 14 years of my life. but i just loved working on this. it's been a labor of love. i just had the best time because the more i learned about rockwell the more mysterious than he became and my wonderful editor is here as is my best friend and my husband and they
know how much i have really been completely consumed by the mystery of norman rockwell. he didn't present himself as a mystery man. he was a very home front philosopher type of personality, and everywhere i looked anything i looked at lead to something that required it seemed like endless investigation and all kind of truths and there were truths about him and about american culture. i do want to say in terms of the criticism that he's received over the years a kind of study of that to figure out when exactly did he become the antichrist symbol of what modern
art was reacting against and i think it started the first review was in the 50's and i think the expressionism and that whole culture of spontaneity and improvisation that was beneath did create a lot of misunderstanding about the work and that of all and people assumed that didn't have the same emotion. i was telling stephanie that i have so many good dissertation
topics and there were just so many riddles. i think in the 50's realism was discounted and not only the word of rockwell but edward hopper all over new york now and it's very gratifying to me because there's a wonderful show and every time i turnaround there's another hopper show and i think that he has emerged to the level. he's kind of scene as an irrefutable american master and genius and i hope that will bring him into the up stroke. some people might say who cares. he had all of america behind him. but to me it's important because i feel like as an art critic i want people to look with their
eyes and not fall prey to dogma. but i see as the kind of tendency to over classified 20th century art. so i was going to say that the criticism came from critics, two kinds of critics. that was one category and the other was a lot of bitter criticism came from people who hated the saturday evening post, liberal writers particularly who identified rockwell with the vision of the saturday evening post and one thing that i learned in researching the book is that it's a very odious publication. the heated fdr and the new deal and spent a lot trying to
dismantle. rockwell hadn't been in common with that. he didn't share the magazine or oppose it early on. he really wasn't thinking about politics until later in his life. but i think that in many ways it became associated with the post and the republican politics and what people's publishing salles as kind of the office of life magazine. the whole kind of liberal. the post in philadelphia was very conservative politically. and it didn't help his reputation that he was associated with the post all those years. so therefore things that were advocating a kind of life and was not advocating that all. i was going to say the criticism came not from artists because i found over the years it has been one of the gratifying things is that artists loved talking about
his work. i don't think that i've met one artist who has asked me why are you doing this. all of my friends give me shit all the time -- [laughter] and i'm not trying to convert anybody. everyone has their own feel. but artists really love rockwell and understand what he was about and have seen his mastery and understand that the work was the creation of an emotional necessity. he wasn't doing this to earn a paycheck. he lost money because he still wanted to to do them and wanted to make more money from advertising. but, so in the book i mentioned wonderful anecdotes which owned
two of them. he owned a portrait of jackie kennedy and a painting which i think it's hilarious because they were famous people. but they understood what rockwell was about and they also understood realism and that there is tremendous emotion involved in the act of looking. and i really don't think that any artist looked harder than rockwell to be at his work is all about the act of looking. i often got disgusted with him because verbally he wasn't very forthcoming. every date that he gives is long and now you can check things online because you can look at the census records. any time i checked it was wrong and when i realized i look i
stopped criticizing for that because as a biographer you don't want to be the party cooper. you can't keep doing that again and again. you can do it once or twice. but he loved telling and using stories and i don't -- on for the right conversation. i think that he -- his work didn't lie. it was incredibly moving in the deep. so, there's something in this book that i think -- i don't know if anyone will even notice it. i will say critically as he wrote a famous essay it became
kind of emblematic of the disregard for the mainstream culture and in researching this i read the papers and he had originally written the piece for the saturday evening post they killed it. they killed the peace because at that time -- this gets complicated but at the time he was a staff writer at the new yorker and he criticized the magazine and the editor said you have to include the new yorker if you are going to criticize all these magazines. he said i'm just not.
so they have a lot of letters coming back-and-forth because everybody knows about this. it's just ridiculous. so at that point he wanted to be paid and they said no so there is a big fight over that. then he goes back and rewrites the peace and sells it to the partisan review and puts in a lengthy attack on norman rockwell. that is such a conflict of interest. even if his opinion wasn't shaped it was still not a very good opinion. it was an opinion based very much on classification and categorization which was a big activity. they always had to draw the line
dwight mcdonald added the middle category and they were just big on shoving everybody into categories. and to me it was common sense. even in modernist couldn't possibly believe that for the abstract painting in the world was better than every norman rockwell. this that made sense? and there was a reflection of category making in the 20th century and that was in rebellion against right now the postmodernism which isn't any kind of a renaissance necessarily but it does represent the effort to reverse the categorization as a fixed past to read and i really hope that this moment that you see as
a kind of good rockwell moment will be the moment that endorse. there is a tremendous appreciation because of your efforts. i don't know what would happen to the work for the paper to read the papers would be impossible to fund because he himself was not a big self are tighter -- archive. how would we see this were complex here we've really come in and formed an opinion and it's important that this museum was here because he wasn't giving space and other museums so it's not like others.
he has a fabulous painting study for freedom speech that's really gorgeous. i told the story how they acquired it. everytime i see the director i said when you are hanging out i'm going to make a video by what i have to go through but i feel like that will change to read it is as we all know towards the realist painting and i see him as a great realist. he thought of himself as an illustrator coming and he was but a much and illustrator. a lot of them split themselves and to and said everybody did
that. they did their commercial work and then the did paintings that they wanted to sell at galleries and making restitution. he didn't do that and that is one of the very fascinating questions surrounding his career. my own feeling is that he really believed in the illustration and wanted to live up to it what he saw as a very extraordinary american tradition. there are so many questions. should i open it up to the audience? i know that i could talk forever. that is what you all came here to know. [laughter] he was very big on male bonding
and he was a physically thin person who loved being around other men especially rugged men. and i found that problematic. he never had a female assistant he had six male students looks very nervous over there. one day she wrote they had written to him and said can you write a recommendation? this woman has applied to the school. do you think that she should come here? do you think that she has any
talent? she said i'm sorry but i cannot write that letter and especially sorry to say that because she is my goddaughter. i looked at that woman who was the daughter of edmund i tried to find her and she had by the but i checked and she did get into yale. some people say you didn't know her that well. he doesn't want to write a recommendation. that can be spanned in any way. to me it was more and he was so sensitive and caring and why is that? this portrayal tends to be pretty good because i would
argue that these women strike me the guy with the black eye but memorable women tend to be female aggressors and that was for him that was the vision that he needed to connect with. i found him to be a sympathetic man who felt like he had no skin and was very unsupportive. i think that he probably felt like because he was so small no one looked at him and his childhood and he wanted people to look at him. he was a bit of an exhibition last. he really did look at people.
i felt like all of that was in the work and it was beautifully observed. even though they don't always like him as a percent to beat a person my respect has flown for him exponentially while working on this book. [applause] >> thank you. i've covered the culture in new york and first of all there are times like this but everybody's so gracious. what about my book?
everybody really supports the spirit of rockwell and is welcoming to people who come in with their own insight. i've never seen anybody get along so well with so many different people. >> i would note that the museum wouldn't open their new american weighing presenting the pantheon of american art without barring a very important work for us because i felt the story -- >> that was a very interesting question. one question we need to consider is because the paintings are here where they would be otherwise from now since they were not being collected by museums the question is he does go in stature how can we seem to integrate them into the collections thwacks you all know
about the museum founded in arkansas and she purchased the and i think that this i like the idea of rockwell being shown with thomas and historians of the 1930's. i think that is where he belongs and he can hold his own but it's also painting it here. what do you do? people don't have access to them. >> the good news is they are not all here. we do have these largest and most significant collections of his work but the many important private collections come onto the market as we know is about to happen and it is my hope that more museums do add rockwell to their collection and that meanwhile on this museum to align our collection there is freedom going to the art of chicago for the important
exhibition on art and art and appetite and looking at cultural traditions and food but also the collection is frequently requested for loans around the country we've looked at more than 125 museums in this nation with our illustrations and exhibitions. now we are going to take questions but one more thing to ask of you. we are going to pass microphone's around and you can see this talk is being filmed and is going to be broadcast on c-span so if you stand to ask a question that will also be part of the conversation and broadcast and please so that everyone can hear your question and in this october issue which i assume many of you have red i'm guessing that many of you have not yet had a chance to
read the book because it hasn't been available until tonight unless you are a member of the press or a friend of deborah which i did on my summer vacation. but please, ask your questions. you have seen some news articles about it. you probably read the smithsonian article and this is your question to hear the interpretations first hand. >> thank you. >> i am a member of the press. >> why don't you get your -- >> i am a member of the press so i did get an advanced copy about two weeks through and i'm trying to get absorbing and eliminating particularly the way that you present him in the context of the later world.
but as you said yourself there are many questions and mr. visa out him and i see that in the book that you pose various questions and draw conclusions, which i'm feeling are your own but supportive. >> and i am wondering how much supposition you yourself had to create in writing this book and how much were you able to verify? >> i think there is very little speculation in the book. i did a lot of work digging through archives. i gathered as many letters as i could and i also was able with a huge resources to go through the newspapers which are now online although they were not when i
started this again i did that going to the library and then from arlington, but you gather as much basic information as you can be and doing a biography, and i tried not to -- what do you find speculative? because i kind of laid out the evidence out there to the for instance there might be some controversy over the question -- >> is that what you are handing out? >> [inaudible] triet frame of mind -- >> the studio system the next morning that he commented how the system was in his pajamas. i think people tend to stampede the word gay wherever they see
sexual ambivalence putative he was very conflicted in his sexual life as well as other aspects. i say that not to raise myself only that. it's firmly grounded in research it something strikes you as my old, tell me -- wild, tell me. >> i wanted your take on how much speculation you had to engage in to solve some of these mysteries. ..
rockwell was almost exclusively and i wanted to know what happened. i got every scrap of information that i could and it was disturbing that i don't think i concluded everything that's a boy died in that scene in the autobiography to be a little dismissive of the whole thing and on the cover of "the post" that after his death the most tender you the g i have ever seen in my life. riding on a train sneaking his dog:end it has a little tag and it says from the name of the boarding house where they lived.
i saw the ignoring comments in the autobiography in did not seem to contemplate the death of this boy. then to compare that with the painting made me think he lived through that era and most of the stories are not that revealing. i never felt his comments brought me closer to him. >> having read the book, i think one question that still remains with me if it is possible to do talk about
it a little more the burning question is fuzzy transcend from a criticism point does the work go beyond the confines of illustration? it was a question that for me you kind of answer. but i still am not scheerer from the league he did not do the double slaying. >> no. >> do not think there was a leap to call him a great realist painter? i would like you to a address that and how you find the work moving.
>> i think he clearly transcended the category one easy way to prove that liggett the other illustrators of the era flows that are as famous is not in the encyclopedia britannica today. three although many other illustrators or not remembered and at this level of interest suggests there is something more. so what makes him an artist but i see a sense of emotional urgency. people think a black
painting or images of loneliness or a dark painting has nothing to do with the motion if i looked at rockwell's work i see a man you look at the world very, very closely and wanted to connect with his subjects and did of their presence. i think he was a very lonely person and his sense of longing for belonging neatly echoed the americas since of people wanting to come together in the mid 20th century to be long. for better or worse we don't
have when a national identity we are probably better off but a lot -- a lot was sacrificed for that but i have that sense of the longing because i always thinking this is said john atkinson cover but every detail means something sometimes if you look at other covers of magazines and why is there the year of court here? it would never add up but understand what the artist tried to do but rockwell just cut away all of flab and that is what it is. just brilliant editing and
cut the toe of what lover is left is what has to be there. i do feel a lot like that in his painting that the details means something that means he put there deliberately. >> i am curious if you thought would it would be like if he lived in new york city store what paintings you may have made or how that conform to what he did? so many people thought he created the fiction of small-town life that a lot of us know that it is a very authentic and it feels very real. you can still see the
rockwell moments. >> right. he was born on the upper west side of manhattan and did spend his first years living in new rochelle end was familiar with the art scene something that drives me nuts. [laughter] he had to have seen it. what do you think? do you think he went? [laughter] if. >> is a compelling story i would love to have an hour with him now.
he very much resisted modernism. some people see that as a great flaw. one competitor said he hated modernism. so? does everybody have to love modern art? he actually felt affectionately but it did not speak to what he wanted to you do and a broken off the surface so in some way there is always another world so he did not like it for that reason there was too much but also that bohemian lifestyle did not appeal he was very conservative he did not want
to go out and have sex and get drunk he was a creature of habit rethink of artist that way by e stock to a strict routine and is in the studio by 8:00 p.m. by the end of every day i think he was in the state of total disenchantment because he felt he did not get done what he wanted to you do. and i think that propelled him for word that there was always a vision that he had yet to capture so the
christian work ethic at the end of the day you're not supposed to feel satisfied. [laughter] men to rise again the next day and keep going. >> right to. that is a very american way i found a lot of early interviews to it was so much fun but he said i believe henry ford what is a famous saying? ninety-nine% perspiration and 1% inspiration. it is a myth anyway that the artist goes in with romantic ideas that is the myth of the modern movement.
if you like to hear to a routine in your work? >> i like if i feel i am going to get up the next morning to work. >> that is a good feeling. [laughter] >> my name is bonnie. could you address the issue of sentimentality which many people criticize nor rockwell for for having that quality of sentimentality? also may be connected with that the renewed interest of rockwell is there an element
in their plan in the warhol by is santa is a different relationship perhaps then what was invested in the painting of the subject. maybe i am wrong? it reminds me of the attention of the popular robert frost but we don't have that division in the same way you don't discover another rockwell matt, do you? >> you said in the war halted id think there were different rockwells for different people with sentimentality and makes me want to write another book i think his subjects were misunderstood during his lifetime he often painted people getting along the
humanitarian side of america if you go look at the freedom of speech there will be a lot of years and eyes fragmentary because that painting is about looking and listening. why did i say that? because of the etf of community may be struck people in the '60s as sentimental but now at a time when the real from the government shut down and the pettiness of american politics we pnc that humanitarian ideals. i think he did like the idea of people coming together. he liked everyone to get
along. look at the freedom of speech. that lincoln figure rising up he isn't wearing a wedding ring if he might be in integrity is new in town i know he is supposed to be greek or italian but uc the wedding ring their older and i think to me that is the emblematic image of american democracy it is a fantasy but it is a worthy goal? if you look at the turkey thanksgiving painting it is a family scene not the town
hall nobody is looking at anyone and that is very revealing. [laughter] the say with coming and going to have a few generations of a family and a dog you cannot tell me directions they look off. you did not know that many directions existed. look at that painty more closely we start to look at the different subjects and i hope that a lot of grad students is the whole question of the day in the drawing is now with the founding images it is supposed to be about every day life but you have people
staring in different directions. the dog, the ice skater, he does something entirely different. you know, about those interlocking days to where the soldier comes you see him from the back and all eyes on the soldier and fell whole idea was something he very much needed in his emotional life and as an artist whose energies were related it all became complicated in his work so that is one question i love
to see a graduate student investigate with his work how did he change it? there are so many questions. he painted "the golden rule" published 1960 the mosaic then erik erikson wrote to nsa on "the golden rule" and became the centerpiece of the book and i just thought which way does this influence go? why are they both doing "the golden rule"? a lot of little question is like that doing research and i'm glad some really cannot be answered so i lay out the evidence and hope that other people will continue their research of the golden rule.
>> when it shines it is golden jesus. [laughter] you have to say yes or no and what the hell is it? so you attack it to see what you can do with it. >> but there is a lot of convergence of a love to see someone researched the source if you're looking for a good dissertation all artists do that take what they need a and ignore the rest of lot of work to be done there i was recently at a civil war show and saw a
painting by eastman johnson the day in the life a fabulous job underpainting i had already handed in my manuscript to editor done. let it go. i saw that painting and a screamed because there realized it had that was the painting he had to be looking at what he wrote the homecoming soldier. there were so many affinities then i became of assessed with that. did he have the book in his library? all of that as they trace the relationship that is all they can do. there is no answer or that creativity comes from so for
that to come out of that tradition you have the database and the web site and collect some of that information. >> former member of the event -- part of the museum good to see you at the lecture you for started to talk about your work. all of us care so deeply about norman watt -- rockwell to care about his museum to have someone of your stature to write a book about him for whatever people think is incredibly important tim particular at this time so thank you for what is yeoman's work that i have not read yet is i'm not a member of the press but i
did manage to breeze through the smithsonian magazine because i am troubled about the insinuations that rockwell was gay. i was reading the connections that you tried to make for the docks -- the dots that you try to connect and we don't have the benefit of your research material but i did find it a thin the and i am troubled again by you're throwing out that he slept in the same bet as his assistant. we know none of us likes things taken out of context but the rest of the sentence talks about the other people who were on a camping trip
who also shared. so when you just mentioned that as if he was the only one to do it, i thank you do a disservice to your supposition of the reputation and i am concerned so i hope you take the opportunity to talk about the mysteries and uncovering of mysteries in his work work and don't let that to hang out there and out of context. thank you. >> i hope that the book will hold you will dash help you to think i put it into the proper context. you read an excerpt of the magazine which is a very limited amount of space and i think in the book i certainly grant him his idle plus any labels on his sexuality but some might say
that was the culture of the time when men were fishing and shared beds but it is worth noting that the next morning he wrote in his diary fed -- fred was fetching in his pajamas that is an instrument on dash intimate thing to right i never'' here say i love documents i go as close to the source as i can and and i think the material does raise questions it was not just a fishing trip but it was a need for his closeness with men which was the
enduring thank in his life. >> i read the flyleaf of the book. you made a comment one of the reasons the move was he wanted to continue the therapy with erik erikson so to make a move like that he must have been very concerned about his depression or despair that it took him time to address it that would be speculation
that what would be the source? you find even people of that stature to have these kinds of problems so again it is speculation so i don't know if you want to answer that or not but that struck me to take such a dramatic step to continue to work with his therapist. >> i do think he was done in every once in awhile he needed a new subject but also wanted to be exciting so simply not about erickson but then he gave him a letter that for me was revelatory but he started
the therapy with ericsson because he always said because his wife was treated hard evidence here he is an artist and could establish that rockwell could to see him in september 1953 eric said. yap. that was incredible going against the official story line. putting all on his life when he was enmeshed with redskin
had drawn enormous support and i think this relationship was keyed to the civil rights period and wanted to give eric sent his do and it says a lot about rockwell that a man like eric say and is seen as a genius of the 20th century was so enamored of rockwell and the relationship but to the cause of his depression why is anybody depressed? probably the same sad sack reason someone did not love you once the matter how much acclaim you receive it does not go away. the perfectionism is interesting are all great
for which he is most known and who was the mother of all three of the rockwell sums and i think in many ways it was kind of a prospect in the sense that we just didn't really say too much about her. he was distracted and flown lee and living in vermont and there wasn't a lot to do their. and was an incredible hardship on her and she did take up drinking which presumably made her feel less visible. i guess that there are different reasons but it was a very difficult marriage and she was incredibly sympathetic figure.
to what has been discussed here about his own sadness. >> the optimism of the work. the pediatrician who wasn't asking his patient to fill out the forms and finalize his life. he would rather not ask her to pay before she leaves. he was thinking of this little girl and takes the time to listen with his stethoscope which is just incredible and that was a very painful to get in my book i think that he was
influenced by the dutch masters and paid a leap forward compared to what he had been doing. he does mark a break from some of the word and is gorgeous and i think that captures him as the kind of community she'd really does want tremendous carry in the work. he just wanted to create this kind of arcadia where people got a long and looked at one another and i think that has a sense of mentality that people who haven't looked carefully at the work. that is another thing is when i
was reading though reviews in the 50's and 60's it's amazing. [laughter] he was a big liberal. he talked in massachusetts. just people picking up the saturday evening post and not really bothering to look at his paintings and describing rockwell paintings and i don't think that people really took the time to realize what an original he was. but i think in many ways it goes
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