Norman Rockwell, At the Doctor’s, 1958.

Norman Rockwell, At the Doctor’s, 1958.

RETROSPECT

Norman Rockwell (1894–1978)

Yes sir, every Saturday, the Post magazine would come to our door and I would squeal silently with delight because on the cover was yet another Norman Rockwell painting and I got what the painting was saying. It was funny, but not like a Dick Tracy cartoon: It was more realistic than that but it wasn’t an illustration. It never tried to evoke feelings that I didn’t understand, and it was painted in a style I easily recognized as Rockwell’s. I felt very adult—I was only 10. Also, it made me feel safe. His paintings weren’t like the other paintings in our house. These other paintings were actually framed reproductions of famous artists’ works that my mother loved but could not afford, like Gauguins and van Goghs. No, Rockwell’s renditions of normal life—like dragging Junior to the doctor—were immediately recognizable and familiar. There was no scary mystery that could make me feel uncomfortable, no strange moodiness that tried to make me feel insecure. The Rockwell paintings reinforced my ego and delighted me. What could be better than that when you are already shorter than everyone else in the family.


“You think this is a good thing?” my ego complains. “These magazine covers are just not complex enough. They’re simpleminded, you moron.”


Still I would look forward to the Post’s covers and never be disappointed. Of course this only lasted about a couple of months—and that pissed me off. Why didn’t it last longer? Simple isn’t good enough? Then I noticed the three Gauguins over mom’s bed. They never lost their strange beauty while they were stranded in my parent’s bedroom, but they never made me grin either. They made me sad, as if I was the outsider always looking in.


Now, of course, I would never have a Rockwell in my home. I understand this but what I don’t get is the little period when I loved Rockwell so much. Am I a snob now? Is it my fault I can’t take pleasure anymore in watching Junior wait for his shot? Or is Rockwell too realistic, too American, too funny to be considered art?


No, I am too old. At 13 I started to act too old, and now at 73 I’m certifiably senile. You would think I would delight in a little simplicity and a good giggle. But no, my favorite Picasso is still Guernica. I admit, I can now see why the minimalists were popular—a choking need for simplicity, for air—not something as cute or human as Rockwell but the glorious absence of everything, though I still hate them.