Norman Rockwell at the DIA

Today seemed like a great day to head down to The D and take in the big Norman Rockwell exhibit now showing at the Detroit Institute of Arts through the end of the month. Tickets are normally $15, but thanks to my date, a DIA member, we got in free.

Rockwell is, of course, best known for the many Saturday Evening Post cover portraits he painted over the course of many decades. And, appropriately, there are copies of every one of his Post covers in this exhibit, 300-something strong, beginning around 1916 and stretching into the 1960s. That alone is enough to make you admire how prolific an artist he was. Looking through all of those Posts was in itself a lesson in 20th-century American history.

The Rockwell admiration deepens, however, when you stop to take in all of the little craftsmanlike details of every work. The audio guide did not say how long it took him to complete a painting, but I can only imagine the artist never slept and/or somehow planned and painted very quickly.

There are some who would dismiss Rockwell's art as nothing but lighthearted whimsy, the representation of an idealized supermajority-white America that no longer exists, if it ever did. But a look beneath the surface reveals the artist grappling with deeper themes of, for example, childhood innocence vs. adult knowledge or reality vs. media image. His work also explores the gamut of more prosaic subjects and emotions like family, man- and womanhood, longing, fear, embarrassment, pride, and all the rest we can so readily relate to.

Although Rockwell may in some ways be a "lighter" version of his contemporary Edward Hopper (my favorite painter, next to Art Frahm, of course), after seeing this well organized exhibit I would have to say he thoroughly deserves his reputation as a true American Original™®©.

"Commonplaces never become tiresome. It is we who become tired when we cease to be curious and appreciative." – Norman Rockwell


Kimberly said...

Norman is an American original ... lucky us, huh? (And I, your date, hope you'll join me at the DIA again very soon.)

Beverly Anne Pickering said...

I'm so pleased you and Kimberly were able to get to the Rockwell exhibit. Like you, I came away with a far, far deeper appreciation and admiration for the man and the artist than I had previously. The images are so ubiquitous that it's easy to overlook them, but the DIA show really drove home the complexity and depth involved. LOVE the new site, by the way!

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