Thursday, November 11, 2010
My grandparents spent the first part of my childhood trying to replicate a Norman Rockwell existence. They grew up in a world illustrated and interpreted by him . His idealism made them forget how dirt poor their neighbors and they really were: family life-the American Way-was raised up in all it's blue-collar glory on the cover of Life magazine during the war and post-war years.Never mind that you turned in the collars and cuffs of your favorite clothing so they'd wear longer and were darning your socks. They looked to those magazine covers to see who they were instead of the mirror because their real, everyday existence was too drab and painful to have stare back at them. They strived to become the personification of Life magazine according to the Gospel of Rockwell. It gave them hope for the future, but meanwhile, life didn't look too bad. They believed it was how things were supposed to look and be, and they knocked themselves out recreating the family gatherings portrayed. Forget that we had to eat spaghetti every Wednesday night because it was the only way we could possibly afford a holiday dinner later. The few 'found' dollars we had from eating prudently was put into Pop's Christmas Club savings account from work, and they financed the Rockwell-style gatherings we had for the aunts, uncles and cousins at Thanksgiving and Christmastime.
I'm not knocking Norman Rockwell at all- he was an excellent artist. He understood what was in the heart of the Common Man and celebrated those little moments that made life bearable because we could gaze upon his paintings and know what we shared in the struggle. He celebrated diversity and praised patriotism. He was ahead of his time by portraying women in all walks of life-as factory and farm workers, professional teachers and nurses -even in war zones- not just as mothers, girlfriends and grandmothers ( but he did that, too). His illustrations and paintings showed real people-faces lined from worry, wrinkled from harsh farm work and age, hair of all colors, styles and conditions, and well-worn clothing old and new. He knew us, and maybe that's why my grandparents trusted his ideal. I none of the magazine I've looked at recently reflect my life or who I am, and it almost feels like an intrusion to view them rather than an invitation to flip through their pages. The models are all pretentiously posed and seemingly bored with their existence.They are Photo Shopped into perfection.
Maybe the real reason why I love Cousin Reginald Catches the Thanksgiving Turkey is because it reminds me that you shouldn't take things for granted, and that when you paint the picture that is your life, you should do it with as much detail as possible, and that the colors you use can be subtle to get your point across. Life was once simpler, and we can still have that picture if we consider what needs to be included in the composition and leave all the distractions out.