Thursday, February 3, 2011
Anti-Neuromancer: Norman Rockwell's Comeback
image credit: public-domain image from Wikipedia
The BBC carries this story today about the "curious resurgence" of Norman Rockwell's artwork.
Disclaimer: Rockwell is a guilty pleasure for me. I love the man's gentle sense of humor. But back to the Gibsonian connection: there's not a thing curious at all about the renewed interest in Rockwell's art.
In a present that looks so difficult, and a future that appears bleak if you ask most any SF writer, why not return to an invented world that was a pastiche of actual pre-Counterculture events but framed so that it looked typical?
Rockwell does grate on me at times. In none of his works do I see my Arabic-speaking grandmother and my dad, both hungry enough in the early 1930s to rely on an urban waste-spot for picking dandelion greens. I don't see dad's daily onion sandwich (to his death, he really hated onions).
But I have to put aside my Cybperpunk preference for dark visions and say, "many folks need this stuff and I enjoy it, too."
Or are such delusions dangerous? As a Peak Oiler who thinks the current downturn is a symptom of longer-term hardships to come, and that technology will not solve but merely mitigate the worst effects of oil depletion and climate change, I wonder if visions of a past-that-never-really-was don't lull us into thinking we could somehow remake it.
Or perhaps we can still enjoy Rockwell for what the work is: comforting eye candy. Perhaps it is a brand of eye-candy with something more substantial inside. I find hope in a statement made by David Kamp, quoted in the Beeb's story:
"To go back to Rockwell's vision of the more community-based, and modest, American Dream has the appeal it might not have held five or six years ago."
That would be welcome news after a time with bloated Hummers with single-digit fuel economy and outsized, land-gobbling McMansions defined US life.
Rockwell's vision might have been middlebrow and whitebread, but it was modest. That's not been a signature trait in our self-invention of American identity for a while. Like thrift and economy, it may make a comeback.
I believe that identity is invented, in real life as well as in virtual worlds, so Rockwell's return offers some hope.
Have a look at the online gallery at The Norman Rockwell Museum and see how his work moves you.