My career as an “Art History Teacher” is over. The “No Child Left Behind Act” has caught up with me. Not “Highly Qualified” to teach Fine Arts; my class, my students, and my lecture notes and materials will be passed on to another with the proper paperwork. I am now “relegated” to teaching History or Biology. As is always the case, I learned far more from the classes I taught in Art History than from the ones I took at the University. I am inclined to give a last lecture, or if you will, a last discussion, on what a dozen years of teaching Art History taught me.
Twentieth century Art, perhaps all Art, comes down to Rockwell and Picasso. Some summers ago, while prowling a secondhand store in Rexburg Idaho, I found a 1960’s *Life* magazine totally dedicated to Pablo Picasso. I bought it; along with a swivel chair for my desk at camp.
Back at School that fall, my magazine got shared around the Art Department and I had to go fetch in from a colleague. As she handed it back to me she said, “I just love Picasso!”
“No you don’t.” I replied.
She was indignant! “I do too!’’ she insisted, “I know what I like.’
“No, you really don’t.” I explained, “You’ve been told you’re supposed to like Picasso, so you say you do. It’s like a five year old standing at the pulpit at testimony time and saying, “I know the Church is true.” I could practically see her “mother” standing behind her.
She was angry with me for weeks. I finally apologized for hurting her feelings, but it was the truth that hurt!
In 1995, ten year old Alexandra Nechita astounded the world with the “genius” of her painting. She was proclaimed the “Child Picasso”. Nechita pumped out a Picasso every few days and sold them to California decorators for tens of thousands each.
A couple of springs ago *CBS’s 60 Minutes* amused viewers with an even younger Picasso prodigy. A four year old “genius” named Marla Olmstead that smeared out Picassos under the direction of her father. He father was an “artist” who couldn’t sell his own efforts. Again, the frauds were gobbled up as prices as high as $24,000. These young “artists” are more like Picasso than they, or the “art world” which worships them, would care to comprehend.
As one who has spent a life time aspiring to Art, I can understand what happened to Picasso. Picasso’s father painted pigeons and taught Academic Art. Pablo tried to learn the rules, but his malevolent habits and lack to talent presented an insurmountable obstacle to the creation of beauty. Picasso tried, in fits and starts, throughout his life to master the basic rules and techniques that would have made Art, but he never paid the price requisite to be an artist. Instead, Picasso discovered a substitute for mastery, fraud. He stumbled upon a “frantic relativism” that was searching for a physical manifestation; a rebellion against all order, including the natural laws of beauty. Picasso jumped on the bandwagon; he soon found himself in the catbird seat.
Norman Rockwell, in a deliberate choice, left high school to attend the Art Academy. His natural talent and desire to master the principles and elements of art soon enabled him to produce works of quality that were in demand throughout his life. Rockwell was never out of work; his creations captured the truth of human experience and the beauty of the human soul. Rockwell also met the fanatic relativism attacking the laws of art, the rebellion of modernism. His art stood as a massive barricade to the avalanche of rule breaking and denial of truth in beauty. The screaming of the driven mob, the testimonies of children, challenged his resolve but never daunted his genius.
With the Twentieth Century now history, many have been told that “modernism” and Picasso will be the artistic legacy of that age, that Picasso was the great artist of the era. But a careful study of Picasso’s efforts reveals the folly of a century that sought to find foundation in fraud. Norman Rockwell’s works will stand; not only representative of that century but as manifestations of the human spirit; created by a master artist who’s own soul is evident in the soul of his work
Picasso was told throughout his career that he was a master artist but Picasso knew he was a fraud; he lived and died a miserable man. Rockwell was told throughout his career that he was “just an illustrator” not a real artist at all but Rockwell knew he was. He lived a full and happy life.
As humanity matures, the recitations of infants will lose their sparkle, the truth will out. The older but wiser world will look at Picasso’s productions and see the fraud. They will look at Rockwell’s art and see the mastery; mastery of eternal laws and principals that testify to the truth and beauty at the heart of the Twentieth Century and the triumph of the soul of the greatest artist of that century, Norman Rockwell.
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