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American Mirror: The Life and Art of Norman Rockwell Hardcover

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 512 pages
  • Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux (November 5, 2013)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0374113092
  • ISBN-13: 978-0374113094
  • Product Dimensions: 9.3 x 6.3 x 1.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.7 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 2.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (87 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #34,660 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

In this well-paced, insightful biography of the iconic illustrator for the Saturday Evening Post, art critic Solomon (Utopia Parkway: The Life and Work of Joseph Cornell) reveals an enormously complicated man whose wholesome vision of America was not merely commercial kitsch, but art that sprung from an emotional life fraught with anxiety, depression, and self-doubt. This sympathetic portrait depicts a repressed and humble Rockwell—a fastidious realist whose style and obsessions clashed with the values of modernism. Thrice married and an apathetic husband, he clearly preferred the companionship of male friends and was likely a closeted homosexual. Rockwell also had an obsessive-compulsive personality and received therapy from the psychoanalyst Erik Erikson, who became a crutch as his second wife slipped into manic alcoholism. Solomon effectively refutes common misperceptions of his work, showing that Rockwell did not promote stereotypes, suburban conformity, or cater his work to the Post&'s demands. In addition, the author perceptively highlights the paintings&' narrative intelligence, comedy, and technical skill. Though Solomon opts to simplify and quickly dismiss criticism of Rockwell (such as Dwight Macdonald&'s), her substantive narrative captures the abundant complexities of this unusual artist, and reclaims him as a master storyteller. 8 pages of color illus. Agent: Amanda Urban, ICM. (Nov.)

From Booklist

*Starred Review* Esteemed art critic and biographer Solomon turns our perception of Norman Rockwell inside out in this fast-paced yet richly interpretative inquiry. Rockwell became famous for creating 323 meticulously rendered, witty, and touching covers for the spectacularly popular Saturday Evening Post between 1916 and 1962. Precise in their detail and expressive in their psychology, Rockwell’s narrative depictions of all-American small-town life are charming and rascally, yet Solomon discerns sorrow. She reads his many portraits of exuberant boys as a rewriting of his own unhappy past as a runty kid in cramped New York apartments. Drawing was his solace and illustration his goal, though for all his success, he felt anachronistic as abstract expressionism flourished, and his “fastidious realism” seemed quaint. But that wasn’t his greatest source of frustration. A workaholic neat-freak, Rockwell—whose first wife divorced him due to mental cruelty, and whose second, the mother of his three sons, became an institutionalized alcoholic—was happiest in the company of young men. As Solomon points out manifestations of “homoerotic desires” in Rockwell’s brilliantly composed paintings, her sensitivity to his struggles deepen appreciation for his virtuosic artistry and for his valor in using his work to champion civil rights and nuclear disarmament. Solomon’s penetrating and commanding biography is brimming with surprising details and provocative juxtapositions, just like Rockwell’s mesmerizing paintings. --Donna Seaman

More About the Author

Deborah Solomon is a nationally-acclaimed art critic, journalist and biographer. She writes primarily for The New York Times, and her weekly column, "Questions For," ran in The New York Times Magazine from 2003 to 2011. Her art reviews appear regularly on WNYC Radio.
Solomon was educated at Cornell University and received a master's degree from the Columbia University School of Journalism. She lives in New York City with her family.

Customer Reviews

Unfortunately the author of this book had no interest in her actual subject.
In short, it's the idea that biological sex -- male and female sex organs -- don't necessarily determine sexual identity.
Ex Lib
Solomon starts to hint at Rockwell's personal problems at the very begining of the book and never lets go.
Paul T. Sullivan

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

86 of 100 people found the following review helpful By Mark bennett on December 3, 2013
Format: Hardcover
This is a sort-of biography of Norman Rockwell. Sort-of in the sense that its far more a collection of Deborah Solomon's opinions, interpretations and subjective analysis of Rockwell than it is a book about Rockwell. Rockwell is given the bug-on-a-slide treatment by an author dripping with condesenction. The introduction reads as if she is trying to explain to her friends why she would waste her time on such an undeserving subject.

We get a sort of chronological overview of his life mixed up with amature psychoanalysis of the most predictable and pedestrian variety. She finds anxiety. She finds obsessive-compulsive disorders. And following the pattern he was distant to his wives and children. And by giving him and his work a disturbed psychological subtext, he can be somewhat rehabilitated into the pantheon of artists.

There are interesting bits and pieces in the book. But they are only found after walking through mountains of trash. Art Historians by training who do biography seem inevitably to produce works far more dedicated to their own opinions rather than the subject of the book. She writes far too romantically about the "art world" for example. The "art world" is not primarily about meaningful context, judgement of works or understanding of works in the context of other works. The "art world" is about commerce and as much about selling the "personality" of the artist as it is the art. Its about making money for gallery owners and being good at parties. The author, by her background, obviously knows better. But still writes the romance view of the art world.

Solomon's fault as a writer is mostly a lack of any sort of originality in her analysis. The book, its opinions and its interpretations are utterly predictable from beginning to end.
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122 of 144 people found the following review helpful By careful reader on December 4, 2013
Format: Hardcover
If allowed I would post no stars for Ms. Solomon's dishonest and irresponsible biography. I read this biography with interest, and then deep disgust. Innuendo replaces facts and there is a sleaziness in this biography that offends any careful reader who is looking for information about the man rather than ill founded sensationalism. This author suggests that Rockwell was a repressed gay man because he was skinny and that being gay led to secret pedophile feelings because he painted kids - ignoring the fact that children were one of the favorite magazine cover themes of the 1930's. If the subject of your work reveals your hidden sexual preferences than I suppose Andy Warhol was a secret, repressed heterosexual for all those paintings of Marilyn and Jackie, and that Sir Edwin Landseer who painted dogs was into bestiality. This book would be laughable if it wasn't so libelous. No wonder this writer was purportedly fired from the NY Times for distorting and recreating her interviews with Tim Russert and others. And no wonder Norman Rockwell's family who gave this woman their trust are now angry about this vicious and distorted biography. Filled with improvised facts and absurd theories Ms. Solomon admires the art only to use it to demean the man. What some people will write to make a buck. Shame on Ms. Solomon and shame on her editors for not fact checking this book, and for permitting slanderous suppositions to pass for critical observations.
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65 of 77 people found the following review helpful By Patrick Toner on December 11, 2013
Format: Hardcover
This book is not worth your time or money. If you're interested in Norman Rockwell's life, there is a better biography available, written by Laura Claridge. If you're interested in Rockwell's art, you still can't beat the original enormous volume put together by Thomas Buechner. If you're interested in careful analysis of Rockwell's art, you'll find all kinds of interesting stuff in Karal Ann Marling's work, or in the recent volume Norman Rockwell: Pictures for the American People.

If you're a glutton for punishment, feel free to read my detailed account of some of the many errors, omissions and distortions in Solomon's book: [...] But you're better off ignoring this whole ugly mess, and enjoying some beautiful pictures.
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44 of 52 people found the following review helpful By Richard on December 21, 2013
Format: Hardcover
Forget the controversy for a moment. Looking at the book strictly from a literary standpoint, quite a lot of the writing is poor, clumsy and absurd. Solomon's observations of the art are sometimes laughable - for instance her assessment of Saying Grace (the painting that just sold at Sotheby's for 46 million) she describes the "TNARU", the last part of the Restaurant sign in the window - Solomon likens this to cubist lettering or perhaps an anagram of UN-ART or even better, a secret message of U R AN ANT (She can't seem to remember Norman Rockwell did not paint in the context of today's texting language, he painted this back in the 50's). Solomon cannot grasp the artistic mind - very simply the "TNARU" spelled backwards in the window is an even better design element and visual if not seen in it's entirety. Her assessment of No Swimming (1921) is ludicrous - instead of just seeing that it is clearly a story of some boys swimming where they shouldn't have been been and getting chased by an authority of some sort - Solomon muses, "Various scenarios are imaginable. Perhaps the boys are playing hooky from school. Or perhaps they violated Prohibition and bought a bottle of something alcoholic." Really? Only in Solomon's fevered imagination. No one else sees these ridiculous scenarios.

And throughout, her prose is painfully awkward - she mentions Rockwell's image of the city (see his Autobiography) a woman brandishing an umbrella and hitting a man with it in a vacant lot - but then she ruins this powerful imagery with "as if the woman were the evil twin of the Statue of Liberty". Huh? I found myself commenting on the margins about the absurdity of so many of Solomon's observations, judgements and assessments. And some of the reviewers find this intelligent prose?
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