I’d like to focus on the mise-en-scène of Norman Rockwell’s Freedom of Speech. This painting has a very modern, and thus slightly unusual, composition. Instead of a traditional framing of a group of people by the environment around them, Freedom of Speech appears almost like an inset of a larger painting. In the foreground, half a bald pate and an accompanying ear are all we see of one of the figures in the painting. Other peoples faces are partially obscured by other figures. Much of the background is taken up by a large, blank blackboard, and this is the only context for where we might be: perhaps a classroom? This is not the kind of visual composition that we normally associate with Rockwell, although he does use it in other paintings, such as the Freedom of Worship, to a similar effect. This mise-en-scène does two things: it makes the painting appear more immediate, almost like a candid photograph instead of a carefully planned and painted work. The abrupt perspective in the painting makes it appear as though the viewer is in the crowd, looking up at the man about to speak. This is not a staged view of democracy in action, but a dynamic, close up snap-shot of freedom of speech in action. Democracy is happening here, now, and right in front of you.
The crowded composition of Freedom of Speech compared with a more traditionally composed Rockwell painting, Before the Shot.