Monday, June 2, 2014

Norman Rockwell and socialist realism - "Russian schoolroom"

See the interesting footnote re Norman Rockwell's 1967 Look Magazine illustration, "Russian schoolroom,"

about which Wikipedia writes:
Russian Schoolroom was published in the October 3, 1967 edition of Look as part of a series of articles on life in the Soviet Union. Rockwell had visited School No. 39 in Moscow where he drew puppy sketches on a chalkboard …  A reference photo of the Moscow classroom with pupils (1967), taken as a model for Rockwell’s final painting, reveals the inattentive pupil to actually be paying close attention to the teacher, with eyes front. It has been suggested … that in changing this detail Rockwell slightly subverted the image to make a subtle political point in favor of non-conformity.
FYI, have caressed the thought for years of helping to organize a joint Rockwell/socialism realist exhibit, although I realize that to some scholars/commentators associating Rockwell, evidently a complex man and not a crude propagandist, with socialist realism is mixing apples and oranges -- and unfair to Rockwell. 

But may I ask the innocent question: Were not socialist realism artists complex as well? And they -- the socialist realist painters in a totalitarian society -- went, arguably, though a hell far greater than Norman in his secluded New England abode --including his family/sexual" (some would say irrelevant to his "art") all-American issues."

In all my naïveté as a non-art historian, I do find striking parallels between these two styles of painting -- Norman "R" and and socialist Realism.

These visual representations -- by an American and by Russians (notably Fedor P. Reshetnikov) -- are propaganda -- and not propaganda. How, why? Hence the intellectual stimulation of comparing them.

In a nutshell, these works of what may be called art (some would still not elevate them to that high position) pose interesting questions about the nature of propaganda, an activity still very much with us in our 21st century.

P.S. But one thing Rock/and RS definitely have common: skyrocketing value -- on their money-making potential for Rockwell see; for socialist realism, see.

P.P.S. Maybe art "deal makers" -- in the generous spirit of Renaissance Popes or Las Vegas billionaires, including one evidently devoted to art (or am I flattering him?) -- might therefore fund an Rock/SR exhibit visually to enlighten we the lumpen interested in asking important questions on the problematic, yet intellectually challenging, relationship of art and politics.

1 comment:

Natalie Neviasky said...

Realism per se at that time was represented in the US mostly by illustrators. Thus the resemblance. Rockwell was NOT creating his paintings for public displays, excluding '4 freedoms', all his works were preparations for illustration print. This, I understand, is the main reason for usually poorly developed textural character of paint on his canvases (I was surprised to see it at first when first saw his works close up.). Soviet artists were creating them for display first and second for possible illustrations. Also, best Soviet artist were talented highly skilled professionals, I do not think any comparison in this stance will hurt Rockwell. The political side of it will ; but it's a subject of a research I am doing at the moment. :)
My bottom line is 'no'; the comparison does not hold. 'Yes' to some of Reshetnikov's, and a few others, 'no' in general (but as well 'yes' if you take any realistic, not that well known, works of Brits and other Europeans earlier and same period; huge resemblance with French late 19th c and early 20th realistic paintings for bourgeoisies)