The depth of emotion on Veteran’s Day did not really hit me until I was present at the Vietnam Memorial one past Veteran’s Day. It was a truly moving experience I have never forgotten. To my granddad, a U.S. horse soldier in France in World War I and my uncle, whose budding baseball career was halted by a shot to the leg in World War II at the Battle of the Bulge, thanks! My dad, who missed the war but served nonetheless, thanks! And to all the veterans who willingly risk their lives, thanks! We owe them all so much.
Having grown up with Rockwell illustrations, I was expecting a general look at his work in American Chronicles: the Art of Norman Rockwell at the Frist Center for the Visual Arts in Nashville, Tennessee, but was more than pleasantly surprised. The exhibit covered Rockwell over the years as a look at Twentieth Century American History. Rockwell paintings covered the politically controversial 1960’s, the 1940’s war propaganda with paintings like The Four Fears, and the paintings of a number of American Presidents. Rockwell painted Americans as we wished we were in many ways. The exhibit delves into how Rockwell created the paintings that will forever be remembered as everyday life in the United States from the 1920’s to the 1970’s.
The art world categorized Rockwell as an illustrator, not an artist for much of his life, dismissing the depth and skill of his paintings. For each painting, Rockwell relied on human models. His children and the children of his friends, appeared in many of the works. Rosie, the Riveter, of the 1940’s art was 19-year old telephone operator, Mary Doyle Keefe in Rockwell’s hometown of Stockbridge, Massachusetts. The Saturday Evening Post has a wonderful article (here) about Mary, as Rosie, and how the role changed Mary’s life. The identities of many of the models are listed beside the paintings in the exhibit. Rockwell, himself appears in many of his paintings.
Deborah Solomon has written a recently published biography of Rockwell, American Mirror: The Life and Art of Norman Rockwell. The Rockwell Museum in Stockbridge has an interview with Solomon on the museum website (here). In an article for The New Yorker, Peter Schejeldahl talks about himself as the “hip young art critic” Solomon mentions in the book, as having “a kind word for the great artist-illustrator.” Schejeldahl’s article talks about how Rockwell’s art reflected the spirit of the times and how it gradually became accepted in the art world.
The Exhibit at the Frist is a truly moving experience. Each beautiful painting tells a story. Some stories are of family and small town life. Others are the stories of the times. Rockwell’s paintings are chronicling the momentous occasions as they occur throughout the Twentieth Century. To walk through the exhibit is to walk through those times. Rockwell paintings teach history in a way no book could. Through Rockwell’s paintings, we live that history with him.
Note: Rosie, the Riveter is not in the Frist exhibit though The Four Fears are.
Art is an inner language that must be expressed outwardly. For the visual artist, there is an urge to put sights or thoughts into some form of visual medium. If visual artists could put them into words, they would be writers or poets. If they could put them into movement, they would be dancers. It is a language that the visual artist speaks and is as unique as a writer’s word or a dancer’s movements.. The difficulty may be in projecting the language so that it is as understandable as the written word or the dance performance.
Researchers are finding visual art is a means of expression for those who are non-verbal. Visual art takes on a structure and meaning as clear to the non-verbal as the spoken language is to others. Paula K. Eubanks (Eubanks, 1997) writes, ““Accepting art as a language means that art can be useful in developing language skills.” For those with difficulties learning verbal language, art can become a primary means of communication. To the non-verbal, visual art is speech.
For the visual artist, also, art speech is a need to communicate from an inner place that has no words. “I was facing a quagmire regarding the insight that if we could ‘say’ art we would have no need to make art,” states Frikkie Potgeiter in a research paper for the University of South Africa entitled, Critical Language and Visual Art: a post structural analysis. The visual artist does not express through poetry or writing but by placing paint on paper or canvas. The language is one of color and form as O’Keeffe said.
The visual artist’s brush is the main instrument of communication, as is the writer’s pen. For the visual artist, the goal is to adequately direct the brush to speak what is inside demanding to be spoken. Brush speech must be mastered as any other tool of communication. The artist has to maintain control so the brush doesn’t get carried away and say something offensive. It is usually best to allow the brush to say only those things that are safe to be said in polite company. However, some brushes will run on.
1. Eubanks, P.K., (1997). Art is a Visual Language. Visual Arts Research. Vol. 23, No. 1(45) (Spring 1997), pp. 31-35
2. Potgeiter, F. Critical Language and Visual art: a post- structural analysis. De Arte. The University of South Africa
Mid-October at Radnor Lake as the trees are in the beginning stages of turning. Fall wildflowers are hanging on even though the weather is cooling down.
“Art has always been the raft onto which we climb to save our sanity.” Dorthea Tanning, (from Raven’s Wing Studio)
What happens when a valuable collection of art meant to benefit a certain group of people becomes a liability to those same people. The Detroit Institute for the Arts (DIA) is facing such a dilemma with the city currently in a state of bankruptcy. The same issue came up with the fate of the Alfred Steiglitz Collection bequeathed to Fisk University by Georgia O’Keeffe. Like the city of Detroit, Fisk was facing a financial crisis and an offer had been made to purchase the collection.
In an article for the Chicago Tribune (via Art’s Journal), Mark Caro lays out the unique situation of the Detroit Institute for the Arts. It seems the art in Detroit may actually belong to the people and not the institute because of a tax approved by the voters of Detroit and surrounding counties specifically to finance the DIA. Can a collection be sold that belongs to the people? The immediate dilemma is the funding of pensions for retirees versus maintaining the artwork. The lovers of art are hoping a last minute rescue will come charging in on a mighty fire-breathing steed. The retirees are hoping not to be turned out in the cold. And Detroit gets pretty cold!
Fisk University was facing a similar crisis. As one of the oldest universities in the United States whose mission is to provide a liberal arts education to “young men and women irrespective of color.” Fisk is well known for the Fisk Jubilee Singers who have been touring throughout the United States and over seas since 1871. Read about their history here. Georgia O’Keeffe’s gift was intended to continue the role of the arts at Fisk. When Fisk fell on hard times several years back, the collection became a liability because of the high cost of maintaining such valuable art.
Enter Walmart heiress, Alice Walton offering to buy the entire collection for the Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art in Bentonville. Arkansas. Not exactly a fire-breathing steed but a rescue nonetheless. The problem was O’Keeffe’s will and its stipulations. The New York Times’ Artbeat blog covered the court case. The legal battle produced an amicable decision allowing Fisk to be able to keep the collection but transfer some of the costs of upkeep to The Crystal Bridges Museum in a borrowing of the collection agreement.
Emotion runs high when art is caught up in fiscal crisis. Retaining art or survival is a no- brainer to numbers people. But to artists and art-lovers, art is survival. Artists and art lovers know art equals sanity. Hopefully, the decision-makers in Detroit know that too. The search for solutions is ongoing. The call for anyone in possession of a mighty fire-breathing steed has gone out.
“Art is the only way to run away without leaving home.” Twyla Tharp (from Artpromotivate)
Are artists running away through their art? Is running away a good thing? So many people wish they could run away everyday. Few have the means. Artists do it daily.
Running away is generally thought of in a negative sense. Running away and escapism seem to be interchangeable to the vast majority of people who are not artists as though it is a bad thing. Runaways, who are not artists, do so as a last resort because something in life has become unbearable. Rather than deal with it, they run away, thus the negative stigma. If artists regularly escape into art it would indicate a positive action. As Tharp points out, we run away without leaving home.
In an entertaining travel blog called Nomadic Matt, the author states, “And, instead, I’m running towards everything – towards the world, exotic places, new people, different cultures, and my own idea of freedom.” He is making the argument for a lifestyle of running away. Even though it sounds exciting it is not always practical for most of us so we do it through art. Some artists are fortunate enough to do both. Being an artist may be one way to live a nomadic life. Maybe we are all nomads at heart. Some just stay home while running away.
I regularly run away to the swamp. I wonder where others run to?
“I do not understand how anyone can live without some small place of enchantment to turn to.” Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings, author of Cross Creek and The Yearling
Do we, as artists, require a place of enchantment? Can we create without a place of enchantment? Do we have to physically be at that place or can we go there in heart and mind?
Rawlings was a moderately successful New York writer until she moved to a small Central Florida orange grove near a place called Cross Creek. Eventually Rawlings wrote about the people of Cross Creek, FL. Her writings about life in the Florida orange grove rocketed Rawlings to her place as a treasured American icon after the movie The Yearling, starring Gregory Peck, hit the big screen. She drew her creative nourishment from the beauty of her place of enchantment.