Skip to comments.Norman Rockwell: The Original King of the Photoshop
Posted on 10/29/2009 1:34:25 PM PDT by Daffynition
Back when Norman Rockwell ruled Saturday evenings, Adobe wasn't even a gleam in some nerd's eye, but a new book shows that the painter was, nevertheless, a photoshop god.
Very few Gizmodo readers were even born when Rockwell painted his last Saturday Evening Post cover, but we all know them. You hear that name and suddenly you can picture those overly detailed, cartoonishly dramatic but ultimately kinda corny depictions of American life. Well, Norman Rockwell: Behind the Camera, written and compiled by Ron Schick, has given me immense newfound respect for the man, for the meticulous photography, the real people and the unintentionally hilarious DIY props and sets that he required to make his painted fantasies of Americana come true.
The book is not about painting. Rockwell's oil-on-canvas work feels like an afterthought for Schick, who mostly documents Rockwell's photography and art direction. Throughout the book, you see a painting, then you see the photographs he took to make that painting. In most cases, many shots comprise the different elements, and are joined together only in paint. It's almost sad: Vivid interactions between people, remembered jointly in the country's collective consciousness, may never have taken place. Even people facing each other at point blank range were photographed separately, and might never have even met.
The photos are as memorable as the paintings: There's a little boy whose feet are propped up on thick books, a walking still-life; there's a naked lady who ended up a mermaid in a lobster trap; there are men and women in various states of frustration, concentration and bliss, whose facial expressions defined Rockwell's style. These were mostly not agency models, but friends and neighbors who were pleased to help out, but not always thrilled by the finished product.
Since Rockwell was one of the most commercially successful artists of all time, you can imagine the rights to all of his images (paintings and photos) are carefully managed. The publisher was kind enough to let us show you the book cover plus two additional pairings, below. I encourage you to buy the book ($26.40 at Amazon)what you see here is just a quick lick of the spoon:
Going and Coming, 1947 You'll notice the book jacket shows a painting of a family embarking on a summer vacationGranny, Spot and allcoupled with a photo of a similar scene with far less action. There's a kid sticking out of the car in both, but many family members are missing. This is because they were photographed separately, in Rockwell's studio, and painted in where needed. (You'll also notice that the photo on the jacket is reversedthe car was pointed in the other direction but I suppose that wouldn't have looked as cool.)
Circus, 1955 What I liked about this picture is that you get to see how ridiculous Rockwell's sets could often be. He needed real faces, but he could fill in the rest. Hence piling chairs up on top of an old desk to simulate bleachers at the circus. Good thing nobody fell off the back and sued ole Rocky for millionsthat twine used to hold the little girl's chair in place doesn't look OSHA certified. If the geeky looking fellow in the front looks familiar, it's because Rockwell himself served as a model for his paintings all the time.
The Final Impossibility: Man's Tracks on the Moon, 1969 Yep, here's proof that the moon landing was faked. At least, Rockwell's commemorative portrait of it was. NASA loved his work, so they loaned him spacesuits and helmets whenever he wanted, and for this, he got permission to photograph his models moonwalking around an Apollo Lunar Lander, with a black tarp doubling for infinity and beyond. Remember, this is when Apollo was new and the Cold War was in full swing, so getting access to the latest NASA toys took clout.
Behind the Camera covers many aspects of Rockwell that I had not known about previously. He was an outspoken civil rights activist, and many of his paintings dealt with race relations. There is a painting of two murdered men, one black and one white, accompanied by an almost absurd photo of two very alive guys lying side by side, eyes closed, on a carpet. There's another painting of a little black girl being walked to school by US Marshals, and the many different closeup shots Rockwell required to paint the extreme detail of the tense, potentand fabricatedmoment.
I wish I could run a gallery of 100 shots from this book, because each page startled me in a different way. Meeting the real people behind the paintings, and learning that every painting was composed of masterfully planned photographsalways black and white, since the artist let his imagination add the colorI will no longer take Norman Rockwell for granted. In fact, I'm gonna kinda worship him from now on.
No ghettoes, no crime.
Clean cherubic children that you'd love to call your own.
When the Civil War comes, that will be my template when someone asks what I am fighting for.
Rockwell was a national treasure that age will continue to add value to.
It’s interesting to see his source images but at least he posed his models and he wasn’t slavish in his devotion to “interpretating” the poses.
I love good illustrators probably more than fine artists. I like Rockwell a lot, and Beatrix Potter, too.
What an idiotic statement.
Part of the genius of Rockwell was his entire lack of pride in process. He did what worked, not what he felt should work.
This has nothing to do with photoshop. That headlin is stupid.
Ever see how Annie Leibowitz works these days?
Many magazine photos are actually composite images now.
“What an idiotic statement.”
Exactly. Is it “sad” that Da Vinci, Raphael, Valasquez, Rembrandt, Vermeer, Goya, etc. posed people for their paintings? Heck no.
The ump on the right is the spittin' image of my Grandad.
All the time I was in college, Norman Rockwell was ridiculed by professors for portraying a false image of life in the United States.
I stopped them in their tracks by suggesting that Rockwell’s paintings portrayed a goal to be striven for.
Norman Rockwell is my all-time favorite artist. His paintings make me reach for the Kleenex.
“Many magazine photos are actually composite images now”
True. But if you’re going to consider Rockwell’s painting “composite,” you basically have to call almost every painting in history composite, since it is almost never the case that they directly reproduce what they see in any given frame. Rather, they mix observations together, add flourishes, and so on.
Your guns are under arust. LOL
No television, no internet, no interstate highway system. No franchises dominating every industry. America the manufacturing giant, with high-school educated employees earning wages that could support a family. A population of less than half of what it is today. These are changes in our nation that have altered in forever, and cannot be undone.
Rockwell was an excellent artist, but he was also a genius at marketing. And what he was marketing was a vision of “America.”
If you actually ever fight in a Civil War, you will be fighting for an image of America that is over 50 years old. There is no way that the country can go backwards in time to that place again. The nation is too large, and the world is too small.
Some work from posings, photos, and sketches, whereas some work from the ID. Not all paintings are sourced from modelled studies.
Oh, and by the way, there were ghettos. Rockwell just didn’t paint them, and you didn’t have to see them. But they were there, and enforced by Jim Crow laws.
“It refers to the fact that Photoshop is used to make a new image from several others. He did on canvass what PS does on the computer”
Yeah, and that’s a stupid comparison, since unless they work in collage, painters actually create their own images on any particular canvas, rather than mixing seperate images together. Also, basically every artist who ever lived mixed on one canvas images he had pulled from different sources.
It is most certainly NOT the same as what photoshop does.
“Not all paintings are sourced from modelled studies”
Whoever said they were?
And when you think of a photo, you think of it as a realistic portrayal of some event, captured in time. No one ever took a painting or drawing to be a 100% accurate account.
Photos aren’t good evidence these days.
Making yourself a human xerox is not art. ART is where you recompose the picture to convey an emotion, make it more appealing to the eye, etc.
The INTENT of a Rockwell painting is to convey that image that he wanted to convey.
The INTENT of a newspaper photo is to represent reality.
Changing to composition of a photo and painting it to make it art is perfectly acceptable. Changing the composition of a photo and then publishing it in the paper as a representation of reality is fraud.
The attempt to conflate the two is ludicrous.
I often photographed colonial churches in Central America. Once as I was trying to get to a spot that would minimize the telephone/electric lines in front of a church I noticed an artist painted it with all such clutter left out.
It struck me that he could really capture it in the way our memory might filter it and hold it.
Your good scouting Rockewll is needed on this thread.
I don’t have one
When I was in college my art professors asked me who my favorite artists were - I said I liked Renaissance artists and Norman Rockwell. They had snooty looks on their faces and said Rockwell was considered an illustrator - not really an artist. They were both big libs for sure - and they weren’t that talented. They wish they were as good as Rockwell.
As an aside. I like Ron Paul - and have always thought he looks like he came out of a Rockwell image.
I'm betting it's not just because it's a "false" image, but because it's a positive, happy image. Same reason critics celebrate John Lennon and sneer at Paul McCartney. It has to be bitter and maladapted to be true art in their eyes. Anything cheery and sunny is automatically dismissed.
I want the America that Rockwell represented too. ;D
LOL! Those are great!
The American Illustrator movement from ~1860-1970 has been totally dismissed by the art historians in favor of anti-art:
This reviewer seethes with hate for America’s past.
reviewer seems to want to diss America a LOT
http://www.americanartarchives.com/sarnoff.htm (1912 - 2000)
Student of John Clymer and Andrew Wyeth. Much work for weekly and monthly mags from the 30s on and ads for Karo Syrup (Karo Kid is a 40s icon), Dextrose (ditto the Sugar Blonde), Lucky Strike, Coors, Camay, Sal Hepatica, Listerine, Vick's Vapo Rub, Meds, Ipana. Illustrations for McCall's, American Weekly, Collier's, Woman's Home Companion, Redbook, American Magazine, Cosmopolitan, Esquire, Good Housekeeping. Portraits of President and Mrs Kennedy. Two subjects keep him famous: popular and tasteful pin-up girl calendars and the pool playing (and card playing and golfing) dogs, of which, "The Hustler" one was the best-selling print of the 1950s. Usually signed art, using full name, or "Sarnoff," or just "AS."
I believe I remember a Rockwell painting of a returning GI in the alley of his family’s row house. Ghettos originally meant urban ethnic neighborhoods (i.e., Irish, Ukranian, German, etc.). So, yes he did paint a ghetto, just not one that you and I are familiar with. The ghetto he pictured was focused on the celebration of the GI’s return from WWII by family and friends. The love of Rockwell is that his paintings were focused on human goodness and greatness as opposed to their failings. His critics called him sappy, but I’m betting everyone of those critics would love to have owned a Rockwell. Rockwell and Winslow Homer both shared a uniquely positive view of American life. Both, in my book, are considered great painters.
“If all Rockwell did was paint exactly what was on a photo then it wouldn’t be ART.”
I don’t agree. Granted, it would be a lower form of art to exactly reproduce nature. Also, if it was done for the purposes of journalism, then it wouldn’t be art at all. Of course, the line between journalism is sometimes fine. I’ve heard “The Gulag Archipeligo” refered to as a work of journalism, whereas I think it is a grand work of literature.
The thing is, it’s almost impossible to recreate nature exactly as it is. Even bad artists can’t help putting themselves in the picture, so to speak. Your introduction of intent is important, and I think almost conclusive. Except I would have to add that sometimes people produce high art by accident.
There’s some hilarious stuff.
Robert Crumb specially used to ride around town photographing such visual clutter to make his urban landscapes more accurate.
I guess the author has never heard of an artist’s model.
Profoundly few artists paint completely from their mind’s eye.
There’s also Frazetta. He’s definitely NOT for kids, though :-P
My definition of art is that it is uniquely identified to the artist. This works in music as well as the graphic arts. When you see a Rockwell, you know its a Rockwell; same works for Miles Davis. Originality is what we celebrate. There have been millions upon millions of paintings painted, but how is it we all recognize the greatness of just a few artists? Being an artist is defining yourself as unique and identifiable. Its just that simple. It usually takes an artist a lifetime to achieve this. Ofen it is not recognized in their lifetimes. But if it meets the time test standard, you usually can be sure it is great.