As most of you know I L.O.V.E. art. Absolutely, I love art. From the most abstract, which a number of you have told me you detest to several different eras that I “like” more than I love. The type of art that I love the most embodies “realism”. From the paintings of George Bellows which depict urban life at the turn of last century New York, to the illustrations of Norman Rockwell. This is what speaks to me regarding issues of life, social conscience, religion and of course politics. I dream on canvas and in color.
So yesterday, I carried a number of stories about what I consider outrageous. The idea that people can appoint themselves “experts” and on a grand scale declare themselves to be of such exquisite intellect that they can “think” for the general population. This was the premise of the 22 conservative “intellectuals” of the National Review. A number of people were upset with me regarding the fact that they felt “THEIR” man was far superior to the one I have chosen, for many reasons, to champion this election cycle. Those people chose to “unfriend” me and that is their right. But the “coffee” that you receive from this site is far more than one story or one idea…. I assure you.
So, I want to speak briefly of on of my favorite painters, Norman Rockwell. No one captured the sentimental and nostalgic scenes scenes of everyday American family life quite like Norman Rockwell.From family to fatherhood…. from first love to growing up…. from friendship to loss. His paintings are complex, but inviting even to the the most naive observer. Looking closely, you see the main idea, with secondary and tertiary thoughts throughout each painting.
The Norman Rockwell father is the ideal dad—patient, understanding, and protective, with a twinkle in his eye. The Norman Rockwell father is the creation of an ideal, in real life. Rockwell paintings capture the heart of most conservatives. The themes are family, church, love and “being normal”. Even the most dated paintings will evoke a smile of either recognition or “hoped for” recognition.
But beneath these beautiful depictions of uniquely “American” life was a very complex man. A non-churchgoer, his paintings depicted war, economic hardship, cultural and racial divides without offending even the most sensitive “hearts”. They were a documentary history of American life. But not HIS life. “The view of life I communicate in my pictures excludes the sordid and ugly. I paint life as I would like it to be,” he wrote in 1960, in his book My Adventures as an Illustrator.
His father, Waring, was the office manager at a textile firm, and his mother, Nancy, was an invalid and probable hypochondriac. Neither of them had much time for Norman and his older brother, Jarvis (not to be confused with the son Rockwell would later give that name), and Rockwell flatly stated later in his life that he was never close to his parents, nor could he even remember much about them.
The family moved often, from apartment to apartment, and far from the idyllic visions of his paintings, one of his childhood memories was when he witnessed an inebriated vagrant woman beating her male companion to a pulp in a vacant lot. The family somehow ended up down on their luck, living in a filthy boarding house(his mother no linger wanting to “tend house”) and Rockwell, rather than eating at a table with extended family….. ate with the vagrants and transients who also boarded in the shabby house.
The only happy times were when his family boarded during the summer in upstate New York. That was the “an image of sheer blissfulness” depicted in his paintings. The other saving grace of Rockwell’s youth, along with his summer trips upstate, was his artistic ability. With this…. he impressed everyone from an early age.
His personal life, however, was “something else”.
His first marriage lasted 14 years and was quite progressive by even today’s standards. He had no children for this union and the both he and his wife explored relationships with others….. with mutual approval. His next wife was younger, her name was Mary Barstow. They moved to Vermont. The mythical “country” of his paintings and his dreams. Vermont provided the backdrop for much of his family scenes that we have come to love.
But for all the beauty in his paintings, he never lied to himself. He acknowledged that he painted life as he wanted and wished it would be….. not as it was. He was not a good father or husband. The family vacations never existed, he loved his work more. He was chronically depressed and Mary, his wife, lived in alcoholism and depression, herself. They had three sons, each VERY talented and they would grow up to be successful artists and authors. Mary, however, died at age 51. His last marriage, also to a teacher, was his happiest. Molly, his last wife was a liberal activist who led him to do more of his work with civil rights. Those paintings had a different feel but were nonetheless impressive.
So, who cares about this?
Well, I wanted to illustrate in words (the paintings are below) how complex and contradictory human beings often are. We have a tendency to paint people, especially in political life, as “good guys” and “bad guys”. One thing you don’t like and you rush off to seek “Mr. Goodbar” somewhere else. You assume that because people use the verbiage you want to hear, for that moment, that they are aligned with you “cosmic conservative stars”. You look for the “perfect conservative” and ascribe attributes to the person (many times undeserved)and somehow you paint with the bright letter “c” on their forehead.
Reagan, was not the “God of Conservatism”…. in fact some things he did were not conservative at all — by today’s lofty standards. He did however, have a compelling life and image that took our imagination to higher heights and gave the “illusion” of something better. If you read his biography, you too will find parallels to the life of Rockwell. FDR, for all of his hero worshiping older fans, had a complex personal life and personal prejudices. Much of what the public knows about him was an illusion. And not a small one at that, a GRAND illusion – from his health to the marriage that ended up more as a negotiated business contract than true love …. which both of them found with others.
Truman may have become the 33rd president of the United States after Franklin Roosevelt’s death a year earlier, but his imperious mother in law was proud of her place atop the social hierarchy of Independence, Mo. She still believed that this dirt farmer and failed haberdasher was unworthy of her daughter Bess. In private, Mrs. Wallace evidently questioned her son-in-law’s qualifications to be president and needled him about Israel (the historian Alan L. Berger calls her “a confirmed anti-Semite”). Addressing him customarily by the formal “Mr. Truman,” she let him know how much she admired his 1948 opponent, Governor Thomas Dewey of New York. And when the president fired General Douglas MacArthur in 1951, Mrs. Wallace, almost inevitably, asked how he could be unkind to “such a nice man.”
Never rude to his mother in law…. he instead chose to tell clever jokes about her to which h=she never caught on….. or pretended not to.
And…. we can go on and on. The difference is that now, with he internet, we can dig up any little ‘dirt” imagined or real and THEN use it as part of the measuring stick that even WE can not live up to. This is especially true on the “right” side of the political equation.
Never let perceived “perfection” become the enemy of “good enough”. Live long enough and you learn a few things, not because you read about them but because they happen to you and around you. We live in the world of “realism”, you might create your own fantasy but not your own truth. Truth IS realism, perfection – be it in a husband, child, hero or politician is a fantasy.