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Norman Rockwell: A Life Hardcover – October 16, 2001


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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 576 pages
  • Publisher: Random House; First Edition edition (October 16, 2001)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0375504532
  • ISBN-13: 978-0375504532
  • Product Dimensions: 9.4 x 6.5 x 1.9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 2.3 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 3.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (17 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #391,468 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

Boy Scout campouts, backyard barbecues, Christmas trees, cheerful barbers: no artist quite converted slice-of-life realism into idealized portraits of the American dream as ably as Norman Rockwell (1894-1978), whose distinguished career art historian Laura Claridge captures just as ably in this welcome biography.

Rockwell, Claridge writes, had ambitions to be considered a great artist, but he abandoned them early on in the struggle to make a living through his abilities as an illustrator. He need not have worried about money quite as much as he did, Claridge suggests, for over his long career he produced more than 4,000 paintings and earned millions of dollars; still, as we learn, Rockwell was a complicated man, beset by all sorts of worries and more expressive on canvas than he ever was in the ordinary situations of life. His patriotic style evolved through his long engagement with the Saturday Evening Post, whose editor, George Horace Lorimer, used "as an instrument of Americanization," a means of establishing a national identity and ideals of "an American community made safe by a shared vision of right and wrong." In this and much else, Rockwell excelled, achieving early and lasting success though never earning much respect from critics and other arbiters of taste--even though, Claridge notes, Rockwell had all the requisite irony, and certainly all the necessary skills.

For the last few years, a new generation of critics has been reconsidering Rockwell's career and viewing his work more favorably. Claridge's gracefully written biography will give them still more reason to see him in a positive light. It will also afford those who already cherish his art new insight into an American master. --Gregory McNamee

From Publishers Weekly

Claridge (Romantic Potency: The Paradox of Desire) is a former English professor at Annapolis now writing books on "British romanticism, Modernism, gender, and psychoanalytic theory," according to the publisher's bio. This unusual mix is ill-suited to approaching America's most beloved Saturday Evening Post cover illustrator. From the start, an oblique, brusque writing style fails to spell things out: "Norman Rockwell was not sadistic. He was, however, expert at creating desire, both in his public and in his private life." Chapters like "Urban Tensions, Pastoral Relief" are rife with two-ton sentences, like "Major life changes seemed consistently in Rockwell's purview during this period, including the professional leadership he took for granted," or "In 1935, Rockwell was offered a prestigious commission that reminded him of the historical antecedents that had motivated his love of illustration." Readers are given much detail about each of Rockwell's homes, without any sense of why this information might be useful or revealing. And readers learn that, in 1978, not only did Rockwell die, but "Margaret Mead, Hubert Humphrey, Golda Meir, and Charlie McCarthy" also bit the dust. With an undiscerning and unhelpful bibliography, this book nevertheless scorns reputable art critics like John Canaday, who is compared to "an arrogant graduate student." Yet the author unaccountably praises Rockwell's typically heavy-handed portrait of tolerance that shows "a Jewish man being shaved by a New England Protestant barber, while a black man and a Roman Catholic priest waited their turn." Rockwell's millions of fans and other readers are better off with previous illustrated coffee-table tomes, while those who need convincing will not be won over by minutiae about the artist's senility and other lackluster details in this misbegotten project. 16 pages b&w and color photos.

Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information, Inc.


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Customer Reviews

Title: Norman Rockwell: A Life The book has too many facts that are not interesting.
Dorothy Halvorsen
Psycho babble about Norman Rockwell doesn't teach us anything and only makes the author seem foolish.
Caius Petronus
I opened this book greatly anticipating the read only to be disappointed by the author.
MB of Brooklyn

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

33 of 36 people found the following review helpful By Paul Giambarba on December 15, 2001
Format: Hardcover
I've been an illustrator for 40 years. My mentor was a contemporary of Rockwell, also an illustrator and portrait painter who was at the Art Student's League at about the same time as NR. I was all set to like this book after viewing the attractive and articulate author on BookNotes. It turned out to be a chore to read. I'm surprised that Random didn't do more fact checking or editing. It is not so much narrative as it is cut-and-paste word processing. Consider this line for example on page 394: "But at least one son, Jarvis -- who, on finding that he had did not fit particularly well into the Air Force ...." Where are the copy editors when you need them?
Then there are the significant errors, as in the following: [page 209] "First, he recalled briefly the beauty contest he had judged a few years before with Clare Briggs the cartoonist and Nell Brinkley the actress." A simple search on Google will confirm that Nell Brinkley (1886-1944) was also famous as a cartoonist who drew pretty young things for the New York Evening Journal, and not an actress.
On page 300, the author describes a painting of Willie Gillis in church: "In the three pews, shown, only Willie's torso and face are visible; the shoulder of a man in front, and the arm of a man behind, their respective officer and upper enlisted stripes prominent...." This is a curious description coming from someone who taught at the Naval Academy. There is no man shown in front, just the shoulder boards of a US Navy commander. As for the upper enlisted stripes, she should have said hash marks and the distinctive stripes of a First Sergeant (three stripes, two rockers, and a diamond).
The author continually refers to Rockwell's clients as patrons, a term I have never heard used by illustrators or other so-called commercial artists.
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11 of 12 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on October 29, 2001
Format: Hardcover
I've grown up with Norman Rockwell images as part of my life, like so many other Americans--but I've never known anything about the man himself. So I picked this up (great discount from Amazon!) and I just have to write in now and say what an amazing story this is! I'm never going to look at a Rockwell illustration the same way again. I don't have time to get into lengthy descriptions except to say this artist had a long and fascinating life that pretty much spanned the 20th century, and this author does a wonderful job describing both his life and times. As a fine arts grad student, I was particularly fascinated to read how Rockwell's incredible skill at drawing was sort of his downfall. He was such a successful illustrator that he never got the chance to be a poor starving artist and find himself. The downside of early success... who knew?
I highly recommend this to anyone interested in art, or not--it's really for anyone who loves a great biography and a great American story.
ACR, RISD student
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12 of 14 people found the following review helpful By MB of Brooklyn on August 26, 2002
Format: Hardcover
I opened this book greatly anticipating the read only to be disappointed by the author. I gave 2 stars for subject, 0 stars for the writing. She spent so much time exploring every relative from his distant past as well as someone only confused with a distant past relative that by the time she got down to Norman you had dug though many other Rockwells, which really didin't add to your knowledge of who Norman really was. Also the writing style took away from the subject matter. The style was so different than what you would expect to hear from Norman Rockwell himself. He was a "Regular Joe" and this is written so that you have to dig through the flowery phrasing to get to the meat of the idea. Instead of spending my time enjoying the story, I was working through the writing style. I expected a book on this subject to be a reflection of the man. It is too bad this author felt the need to impress with her turn of a phrase instead of letting her subject make the impression. I'm surprised an editor didn't red pencil a good part of the manuscript and give notes as to phrasing.
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7 of 8 people found the following review helpful By Glenn Miller on March 22, 2002
Format: Hardcover
After reading Claridge's bio on Norman Rockwell, I had a far greater sense of what made the man tick. Claridge explains in great detail Rockwell's self-doubts, insecurities, goals, and personal needs. Rockwell's struggles between practicing "fine" arts and illustration lived with him his entire life, and Claridge gives insight behind the cause of those struggles. The book also succeeded in describing the art world Rockwell inhabited, his influences, and his family relationships. Claridge's Rockwell comes across as an extremely humane man, trying to be as nice as possible to all who crossed his path, while keeping a protective shield around him, so as not to interfere with his artistic productivity. As someone brought up in the television generation, I also appreciated Claridge explaining the important and influential role The Saturday Evening Post played within day-to-day middle class American life.
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7 of 8 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on December 20, 2001
Format: Hardcover
This book totally opened my eyes to the fascinating world of illustration, let alone to Norman Rockwell himself. I am amazed that the author could include such learning and erudite information in such an engaging narrative format. I felt by the end of the book that I had personally known Rockwell. I am no novice to the art world, but this study left me far better informed than I was before I began it. Kudos to the author.
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