Updated: Apr 20
Norman Rockwell is a name that has never been left off of a slideshow in an introductory art history class. He is also one of the few artists who's name resonates with people outside of the art world. This is largely due his illustrative ventures for multiple publications, and his work being feature in military campaigns for production efforts. During the second world war, Rockwell created a particular series of works based around the feel of the people at home in America while the war raged on in Europe. The series was titled "Four Freedoms". Freedom from Want is most likely the image most likely the one burnt in your memory. The heart image of a family seated around a holiday feast, anchored by a large turkey dinner in the center of the table. There is no question, Rockwell is on of the most skilled illustrators of all time. It seems obvious to me what separates his work from contemporaries, and it is much more than his style and tradition ability.
The thing about a Rockwell work is that it hits you. It is relatable. Bringing up scenarios, settings, and situations that we can all place ourselves in. Characters are amalgamations of personalities of the time dealing with familiar struggles. His ability to push the right buttons sparking an emotion response makes his work stand out, especially in the realm of illustration. He has such a feel for presenting just the right amount of information. There's never a figure just to fill the frame. Never an extra smirk from a character or unintentional gaze. Everything is a breadcrumb in Rockwell's trail leading us home.
It may just be me, but I am often put off by illustration. This is usually do to one of two faults. Either the work is too deliberate telling me to do something, or it is too vague and I am not attached to it. It is extremely rare that an illustration can engage me. Being so specific in its references that it oddly becomes general. I am then free to take the bait and reflect my own experiences into the work. At that point I am engaged. At the end of the day, that is the point of illustrative work. Engage the viewer. Open them up to the article that follows, or take the action called for. Norman Rockwell is truly the pinnacle of illustration in my book and in my opinion it is for these reasons that he is a revered artists. He is a staple in the art history lecture. That is when you know you have done something special.