Tuesday, August 9, 2016

Petition to Set the Record Straight About Norman Rockwell

Norman Rockwell's son Thomas and granddaughter Abigail have been documenting the falsehoods in the recent Deborah Solomon biography American Mirror: The Life and Art of Norman Rockwell.

Yesterday they started a petition to encourage the Norman Rockwell Museum to rescind its endorsement of the book.

Read Abigail's articles in the Huffington Post: 
Deborah Solomon’s Disaster (and How She Duped So Many)


Pierre Fontaine said...

How sad that someone's life could be so incredibly misinterpreted by an author looking to validate her theory.

It's amazing how a speck of untruth can take on a life of its own and can taint an individual's reputation forever. My daughter's generation is convinced that Walt Disney was a racist and anti-Semite thanks to TV shows like Family Guy. There's little that can be done to refute these revisionist theories because individuals love scandal and controversy (nothing new there) while never bothering to research the truth behind the distortions and lies.

Clearly, no individual is without their demons, even Norman Rockwell. We are all complex persons with things we share with the world and things we keep hidden. However, to fabricate a "reality" out of twisted interpretations of edited journal entries is very tragic and irresponsible indeed.

Allen Garns said...

I was totally unaware of this whole story. It certainly deserves more publicity. I suppose, depending on one's worldview, you could see this as either a hurt family trying to protect their patriarch or an egregious example of contemporary academia taken to it's extreme. I think I side with the latter. Thank you for calling this to my attention. What are your thoughts Mr Gurney? I don't know much about Ms Solomon. The experience of Russet, Dickinson and Glass certainly calls her work into question. The fact that she is an art critic of my generation allows for the possibility that in college, especially grad school, she gained a strong aversion to Norman Rockwell's work and everything it stands for. I myself was influenced that way a little by my professors but gradually moved back to a great appreciation and admiration for Rockwell's work. Very sorry to see what's happened and hope clarity can be found on this.

Paul Sullivan said...

Along with being a professional artist for 62 years, I have been an avid student of literature and history. I've studied the work of Norman Rockwell since I was twelve and read everything I could on his life.

I was appalled by Debora Soloman's biography of Rockwell and found it disturbing in many ways. The writing is not the top professional prose you would expect. Solomon hints at the personal problems of Rockwell at the very beginning of the book and will not let go. It is as if she is presenting her personal psychoanalysis of Rockwell, building her case as she presents the events of his life. And she keeps this up all the way through to her account of Rockwell's last breath.

Solomon is a known art critic and she offers excellent commentaries on some of Rockwell's major works. However, time after time she tries to read too much into incidental details—looking for psychological clues. Such mental wanderings are ridiculous, meaningless conjecture.

There is another much bigger flaw in this biography. Solomon never relates anything meaningful about the way Rockwell worked. Here is a man who centered his life around his work and his way of working. Yet, Solomon never relates anything about his way of working. Actually, Rockwell went through several big changes in his way of working. Some of these changes which must have been difficult for him and could have had a lot to do with his personal problems.

Throughout my career as a professional artist the work of Norman Rockwell has been an inspiration. His work always looks fresh and timeless to me. The best thing I can say about this book is that it can explain some of Rockwell's personal problems. We all have some problems. Why shouldn't he? The worst thing I can think of is that some scholar in the distant future may use this book as reference.

james holland said...

There is nothing worse than an academic or author with a hare brained theory.Everything they find is twisted into confirmation of their fantasy which is in itself based on ignorance about human nature.We had something equally bizarre a while back when Patricia Cornwell took her fantasies for reality in the case of Walter Richard Sickert who she identified as Jack the Ripper.All utter tosh.She had no understanding of the artist's personality.Did that stop her? Of course not!

Steve said...

Thanks for bringing this to us, Jim. I've read Solomon's book. I've read Abigail's and Thomas's articles. It is weirdly unconscionable and self-destructive for the Museum to continue to endorse the book. I've signed the petition.

Jephyr! said...

Thanks for sharing this.

I read the granddaughter's accounts and it made my blood boil!

I've signed the petition and added links to my blog and asked my readers to sign as well.

Thanks again!

rotm81 said...

Signed! So, if one wanted to read a biography of Rockwell, what's the best/most comprehensive?

Jim Serrett said...

That is just so sad, what has happened to journalism? I am just dumbfounded to why, the second article in the Post touches on the motive. Is all about getting attention, capitalism and ego?

nuum said...

Loooking at the Amazon.com star rating of the book, you see how a lie is created : After the scandal of the lies became public, the leftist troops entered amazon and start to give five stars to the book without even read it.


Long live Norman. We love You.

I´ve just signed the petition.

Thanks Master Gurney for posting.

Paul Sullivan said...

Dear nuum:

Lefty or not— lets not get politics involved in this. This is a terrible excuse for a scholarly biography. There is enough to be irritated about here.

Personally, I wrote a lengthy review of the biography for Artist Daily just after it was published and all but condemned the book as trash.

James Gurney said...

ROTM81, My favorite book on Rockwell's life is the one he wrote himself (with the help of his son Thomas). "My Adventures as an Illustrator." It's full of all the charm, warmth, humor, storytelling, and personal insights you'd expect from Norman. He makes himself the butt of his jokes most of the time, which is one of the reasons people have always loved him. The story isn't all sunshine and puppy dogs, either. There's plenty of Dickensian shadow to balance the light, which makes it all the more interesting. If you go to the NR Museum Archives, you can ask to hear the original recordings he made of his recollections, which serve as the basis for the book.

I agree with Paul Sullivan, and this is true of most modern biographies: they never talk about how the artists created their work, and what went into it. That was true of the NC Wyeth book, too.

NUUM, yes, the 1-star ratings on Amazon far outnumber the 5 star ratings, and they read more credibly.

Pierre, taking down prominent figures, especially if they're popular, seems to be the fashion these days, and it's possible to do so even without outright falsifications of primary sources. It's a matter of picking and choosing the details. The Rockwell family is not trying to whitewash his image, far from it. They just want the portrait of him to be truthful. All the people who knew him well: models, photographers, neighbors, and friends, reject the premise of the book, which is largely offered in the form of innuendo.

Steve, yes, the Museum Board and the Director are following a self-destructive course so far in the name of maintaining a diverse forum. I hope the Museum realizes that journalistic truth is a more paramount principle.

To answer Allen's question, I believe the Director, Laurie Norton Moffatt, needs to publicly revoke the endorsement that she put on the dust jacket of the book, where she calls it a "masterpiece" and an "epic achievement," with "superb research and keen interpretation." This is not presented as Moffatt's personal opinion (as she has claimed in interviews), because she identifies herself on the dust jacket as the Director of the NRM. Therefore it carries the weight of the institutional sanction. As it stands, Solomon's book is often featured on a special table in the lobby of the Museum. Abigail's thorough investigation of sources proves that Solomon's book is fraudulent. It abandons basic ethics of scholarship, and the Museum should distance itself from it.

drwistman said...

Sad thing. A revered artist's entire life presented in terms of a cunningly ambitious at best - spiteful at worst - art critic, and receiving the seal of approval from his own museum.

nuum said...


If it is not Moffatt's personal opinion that the book is a "masterpiece"
and an "epic achievement", why Solomon's book is often featured on a
special table in the lobby of the Museum ( I didn't know this) ??

If Solomon lied about the opinion of the Director of the Norman Rockwell
Museum, why Moffat let the book there ?????!!

Strange things...

Perhaps not so strange...

Rio - Brazil

Pilgrim said...

Thank you for the info. I sgned the petition.

MoStarkey said...

I'm appalled by this new biography on Norman Rockwell. It tells me more about the author's ambition.

It always bothered me to read books about an artist by people who never knew the artist and were never artists themselves. My strongest example is Van Gogh. The awful biographies about Van Gogh, went on about him in such an unrealistic way until reading them had too much in common with Romance novels and not about Van Gogh the artist. I did get, Van Gogh's Letters To His Brother Theo. That was excellent. Anything written by the artist in their own words, about his/her work and process is the most valuable. It should be the most trusted.

Signing the petition.

Andy said...

@nuum, I assume what James is saying is that the opinion is presented as that of the Director of the NRM, rather than as merely the personal opinion of Moffat. It's a subtle but important difference, like when people say "this is my personal opinion and may not reflect the views of my employer".