Review: American Mirror, The life and Times of Norman Rockwell by Deborah Solomon
A Disturbing Biography
For all the warmth and humor in his work, Norman Rockwell was a complex and troubled person. The demands he placed on himself and his work eventually had troubling effects on him personally and some of the people around him. This is no big secret. Through the years, I have read that Norman and his wife Mary were prone to depression. None of us are perfect specimens.
Deborah Solomon's biography of Rockwell is disturbing in many ways. Solomon hints at Rockwell's personal problems in the very beginning of the book, gathers steam and she never lets go. It is as if she is presenting her personal psychoanalysis of the man, building her case as she relates the events of his life. She keeps this up all the way to her account of his last breath.
As flawed as this book is, there are some good points. Solomon is a noted art critic and she offers some good 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 more disturbing flaw in this biography. Rockwell was a man who centered his life around his work and his way of working. Yet, Solomon never reveals anything of any depth regarding the way he worked. Rockwell made some big changes in his way of working through the years. Some of these changes must have been difficult decisions. What triggered these changes? What effect did they have on him personally? Again, there is little or nothing about any of this. Solomon seems more interested in Rockwell's well dressed psychologist.
From the time I was 12 years old Rockwell's work fascinated me. Throughout my career as a professional artist his work has been an inspiration. It always looks fresh to me.
So— Rockwell had problems. Why wouldn't he? The rest of us do.