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.
“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.
The America you want to live in is a complete fantasy. And would you like to elaborate on this ‘Civil War’ that you so hastily glorify?
Frazetta works from the mind’s eye. He just “figures out” things like a rabbit in motion.
He’s still alive
Boris Vallejo on the other hand airbrushed photos.
I saw a cool documentary about Frazetta. I think he’s in PA somewhere. Cool guy.
“Originality is what we celebrate.”
Since the Romantic Age yes, I’d agree. But that was not always the case. Originality/creativity was part of the equation but there were also considerations of expertise/virtuosity (the artist’s skill), subjective value (whether the spectator got pleasure from the work), form/style (how well the work conforms to rules of composition), and imitation (how well the work reproduces natural beauty; not necessarily in an exact sense).
I submit that without originality, a work can still be art, so long as it satisfies other qualities. It may not be as high an achievment as it otherwise might have been, but it’s still art.
Yeah, I don’t really dig 40s style babes, but Vargas is cool. I found out about him when I got Candy-O by the Cars back in the day.
You ever seen Fritz the Cat? Great depiction of the 60s. Much different than the idealized leftist version.
What is art? Happy, thoughtless is no more art than grim, thoughtless. But the deeper you dig the darker it gets.
“but how is it we all recognize the greatness of just a few artists?”
Sometimes it’s a matter of accident, sometimes of periodically alternating tastes. But you dealing here with the very heights of high art. For every one DaVinci, Michelangelo, Caravaggio, or Turner, there are thousands of lesser masters whose talent others would kill to possess. And for every one of those masters, there are thousands of hacks no one will remember after a generation, but who were still artists.
We can get bogged down constantly focusing on the Great Names. It’s one of the reasons Rockwell has been ignored by art snobs in the past 60 or whatever years. He’s nice and all, but is he a Rembrandt? Well, no, but do you have to be a Rembrandt to be a quality artist? No.