Posts Tagged ‘Norman Rockwell’

In NPR’s political news reporting, I found a modern-day invocation of Lincoln from President Obama, which (interestingly enough) actually ties in with the Rockwell painting we looked at on Tuesday, because this particular exchange occurred at a town hall meeting at the University of Maryland. A high school teacher asks a question about compromise in government–namely, whether or not she should still be teaching her students that the two-party system relies on compromise, when the current Congress outright refuses to budge from strict party doctrine. Obama’s full response can be found here, but I’ll quote the most relevant part below;

…there’s this notion — I was actually reading an article on the way over here, and the basic notion was that, well, Obama is responsible, but he doesn’t fight enough for how he believes, and the Republicans are irresponsible but all full of conviction. So this was sort of the way the article was posed. And this notion that somehow if you’re responsible and you compromise, that somehow you’re giving up your convictions — that’s absolutely not true. (Applause.)

I think it’s fair to say that Abraham Lincoln had convictions. But he constantly was making concessions and compromises. I’ve got the Emancipation Proclamation hanging up in the Oval Office, and if you read that document — for those of you who have not read it — it doesn’t emancipate everybody. It actually declares the slaves who are in areas that have rebelled against the Union are free but it carves out various provinces, various parts of various states, that are still in the Union, you can keep your slaves.

Now, think about that. That’s — “the Great Emancipator” was making a compromise in the Emancipation Proclamation because he thought it was necessary in terms of advancing the goals of preserving the Union and winning the war. And then, ultimately, after the war was completed, you then had the 13th and 14th and 15th amendments.

So, you know what, if Abraham Lincoln could make some compromises as part of governance, then surely we can make some compromises when it comes to handling our budget. (Applause.)

Clearly, the goal here is to push back against accusations that Obama is a “weak” president by comparing his situation to that of Lincoln’s during the Civil War. In no way is it as drastic, of course, but the idea is that even one of our greatest presidents (who is highly admired today by both major political parties) had to rely on compromise for the sake of the greater good (even if it didn’t necessarily help accomplish every one of his goals), because some progress is better than none. Obama compares this to the situation in Congress, trying to show that his willingness to work with the other side is not an act of Democratic weakness, but rather of practicality and necessity.

Bearing in mind that this was in 2011 (aka prime campaigning time for his reelection), it makes sense that he would use these town hall meetings as an opportunity to boost his image after a somewhat rocky first term, and what better way to do it than to invoke the legacy of one of the most iconic American presidents of all time?

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This fictional character which first appeared to the wider public in 1943 on the cover of the Saturday Evening Post, was drawn by Norman Rockwell, also famous for his iconic four freedoms. It quickly came to represent “womenpower” in the industry during World War II.

Indeed, during the rough Depression period, most women were assigned to the home and prevented from working as job opportunities were overly limited. However, as the USA entered the War against fascism after the Pearl Harbour attack in 1941, most American men were drafted and their jobs were left vacant. Advertising then used the image of Rosie the Riveter, supposed to be the ‘perfect’ woman worker, as propaganda in order to entice the female population (students, workers already, housewives…) to change work or begin to work for the war industry.

Thus, women took a vital role for the country as they became the workforce building the weapons necessary to men on the fields. Rosie therefore symbolized the need for women in an American society that did not acknowledge it enough before. They now understood that they could manage their work just as well as men did. After this icon was popularized, these working women became known as the “Rosies”.

ImageThe first image of Rosie, represented resting her feet on Mein Kampf in front of the American flag, with her work tool on her thighs, shows that even if women were not directly involved on the field in the war, they participated in crushing Nazism by being the working force of the USA. In this representation of Rosie, she almost appears as a superhero, very muscular, her riveter being her superweapon. And indeed most women at the time were living a double life just like superheroes as a lot of them, ‘saving’ the country during the day, also had to take care of their family when they were coming home after work.


The second and most popular representation of Rosie, designed by J.Howard Miller, was hung on a plant at the time to motivate women to go to work.

Unfortunately, this hope for recognition of women as equally able to work as men was short-lived. After the men came back from war, they were forced out of their jobs and back into their position in the home or into typically women’s jobs.

Nowadays, the “We can do it” image has become known all around the world as a symbol of women power. It has indeed been used again since the late 1970s to promote feminism in many issues, and in different cultures. We can therefore see a Mexican Rosie or even an Indian version of this icon.


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The Four Freedoms were presented as fundamental in Franklin Roosevelt’s famous “The Four Freedoms” speech he gave during his State of the Union Address on the 6th of January 1941. According to the president, every human being should be able to enjoy them all. This concept inspired Norman Rockwell, the popular artist and magazine illustrator, which painted a set of four paintings, each of them depicting one of these freedoms. Freedom of Speech is the first of the Four Freedoms iconic paintings which was published on the February 20, 1943, in The Saturday Evening Post. Rockwell attempted several versions of this work from a variety of perspectives before finding the appropriate one. The painting shows a working man rising to speak at a town meeting. This is the perfect representation of civic democracy in action and of the courage to express publicly his opinion. The work also reveals audience members in rapt attention with a sort of admiration of this lone speaker. As Eric Foner notices in his book The Story of American Freedom, in a context of war, “those who believed that the country must intervene to stem the rising tide of European fascism invoked the language of freedom.”, and that was the case here. Artists, writers and advertisers took up the theme of freedom with enthusiasm and gave concrete meaning to wartime ideals. Rockwell’s painting became very famous, millions of reprints were sold and they toured the country. Nevertheless, freedom of speech was not new at the time. In fact, the federal government introduced freedom of expression in the constitution in December 15, 1791, protected by the first amendment, but freedom of speech received increased attention during the war defining characteristics of American life as opposed to Nazism. And above all, its prominent place among the four freedoms accelerated the process by which the Bill of Rights, and especially the first amendment, moved to the center of American’s definition of liberty.

Orlane Liscouët (QUB)

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Norman Rockwell’s Illustration ‘Freedom from Want’

Norman Rockwell’s visual interpretation of ‘Freedom from Want’ is a bastion of domesticity and family life. The illustration shows a large family enjoying a meal in good spirits. This illustration is important to examine as the depression of the 1930s had left many families struggling to put food on the table and to provide even the basic necessities. However, with the election of Franklin D. Roosevelt, and with him the policies of the New Deal, the idea of freedom and the expectation of the role of the government changed. FDR’s commitment to the ‘Four Freedoms’ was crucial in altering the role of government and in establishing a dependence and popularity for government involvement in social and economic issues.

 Eric Foner argues in The Story of American Freedom that the depression had left people with a sense that the government should intervene more in economic issues and provide people with security. Foner cites a 1935 survey which found that among poor respondents ninety percent believed that the government should guarantee work for those who wanted it. (p.198) Roosevelt’s New Deal went some way towards changing society by introducing work programmes, housing and social security and encouraged a shift in how American’s viewed the responsibilities of the federal government. Roosevelt’s speech on the ‘Four Freedoms’ emphasised his belief that everyone, everywhere should enjoy these basic freedoms and also committed his government to ensuring that these four issues were of paramount importance.

The ‘Four Freedoms’ not only covered the basic needs of humanity but also placed America as a democratic force against the Fascist war raging in Europe at this time. The fact that Norman Rockwell depicted a homely scene as the illustration for ‘Freedom from Want’ is telling of what the average American viewed as important during this time of economic and international uncertainty. 

(Queen’s University Belfast)

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Original post

As an American painter, I’m not particularly familiar with Rockwell’s work, only the name and the vague sense of attachment to the art world, or so I thought. To my surprise, I was actually more familiar with Rockwell’s work than I thought, once I began researching his work. We’ve talked a lot in class about the “work” an image does, and the message the artist constructs with that image. Rockwell’s message with his image seems to be of an ideal America. The man standing up in the town hall staring boldly into the distance, and with every head around him turned up to him, creates a sense of awe and reverence for the ability of free speech. With everyone’s eyes turned to the man, and the man’s eyes turned outward, we can pick up the sense that we should follow the path of free speech into the unforeseen future. The image also seems to be following classic US ideology of the “American Dream” by putting this duty of free speech on the shoulders of a simply dressed, possibly rural working class man, bringing something essential to those suited men around him.

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Better Late than Never!
As I read everyone else’s post on this Norman Rockwell painting I did some searching around myself and came across this painting “America” that I really like by Norman Rockwell.
                  Rockwell’s “America”
The painting was made circa 1979
Here are some things that were going on during that time:
President Nixon resigned as president in 1974 for the Watergate scandal.
The U.S. withdrew its military forces from Vietnam.
Jimmy Carter was the President in 79.
The U.S. and the People’s Republic of China establish full diplomatic relations.
The Susan B. Anthony dollar is introduced in the U.S.
Los Angeles passes its gay and lesbian civil rights bill.
The largest anti-nuclear demonstration to date was held in New York City, when almost 2000,000 people attended.
Iran hostage crisis began that year.
The Cold War continues.
It is interesting to think about what inspires an artist to paint something. Maybe Norman Rockwell thought the country needed some inspiration. I think this painting, compared to “Freedom of Speech”, really represents democracy. All of the different races and ages represent the real America. Not all of the people in this painting feel the same way about America, yet they all live in the country, are looking into the future, and consider themselves American. The “Freedom of Speech” painting by Rockwell made in 1943, is as we discussed the white male American democracy. After 30 years, Rockwell’s idea of America transformed. “America” is a lot more telling of the true U.S..

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While it feels as though Rockwell’s focal point in “Freedom of Speech” is the younger-looking man standing in the plaid shirt, I couldn’t help but notice the man standing behind the only woman at the far left of the painting. After looking at the man for some time, I realized that he is the only figure in the painting that is not looking at the young man. His attention is directed somewhere else, and I feel as though that says something about this idea of democracy. Democracy is supposed to be a government run by the people where the majority rules, and this man is the exception that proves the rule. He chooses to focus on something else based on what he perceives as important. Just as in any democracy, there are dissenting opinions on which policies to implement, and this is one of the reasons that “Freedom of Speech” is so interesting. Rockwell respects the idea of democracy by having this figure present. The title “Freedom of Speech” not only applies to the young man clearly highlighted, but to this background figure as well. The man behind the woman is not just someone who may disagree with the plaid-shirt man, although this is perfectly acceptable in a democracy, but he is also someone who has his own thoughts and voice. By adding an “off-looker,” Norman Rockwell avoids the hypocrisy of having no one disagree with the plaid-shirt man who speaks out. It makes me wonder if there even is someone who is talking against this man with strong opinions…

-Eddie Feller

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