Monday, February 2, 2015

It's All Relative

People who say the Beatles weren't all that great-- and I'm speaking to you, you Millenials-- are of course misguided in their notion, because they lack objectivity.  Sure, they've heard Beatles songs, but they don't quite grasp as to why everybody says they are so darn good.  What is missing for those young punks is context.  You see, back in say 1965, were you to turn the knob on your transistor radio you would have heard songs by Sam The Sham and The Pharaohs (Wooly Bully),  Sonny and Cher (I Got You Babe), Tom Jones (What's New Pussycat), and then from the one-watt speaker, like an alien space-craft come to blow your mind, would come a masterpiece like Yesterday by the Beatles.  So yeah, the Beatles were great, but what is essentially forgotten these days was how much better they were over their contemporaries.

Far-out, man...

February 3rd is the anniversary of Norman Rockwell's birth in 1894.  Constant readers of Maine-ly Painting (which if you count individual eye-balls numbers near a dozen!) know that I have a long standing love of Rockwell's art.  I may have even written a post or two, or three about him.  But still, some people-- and I'm talking to you Millenials again-- have come to realize that no, he didn't really suck, but still can't quite grasp as to why he was and still is considered so great.  Again, a little context is needed.

When Norman first started painting covers for the premier weekly magazine of America called The Saturday Evening Post in 1916, he was just one among many cover artists.  There was JC Leyendecker and NC Wyeth to name a couple.  Sure, while Norm was talented enough to be a cover artist, there were still a good many covers done better than his.  Gradually over time though, he started to mature in his style and vision of the America that the Post wanted all their artists to portray.  His people were more convincing, the humor more appealing.  The art itself was more attractive.  By the 1930's more copies were being sold that had his paintings on the cover than any other cover artist.  Rockwell was becoming quite well known if not down right famous.

So what made his work stand out?  Why was Rockwell considered the King Of Illustrators? Well, because he was great, for starters, but also because-- like the Beatles-- he was head and shoulders above his contemporaries.  To prove me right, let's put him in context, shall we?

Here is a run-down of typical Saturday Evening Post covers through the 40's and 50's.  The artists were all top flight, no doubt.  But to see the difference I'll throw in the occasional Rockwell.  

Stevan Dohanos

Howard Scott

Norman Rockwell

Douglas Crockwell

Mead Schaeffer

Norman, again

George Hughes

John Falter

Yep, it's Norm

Amos Sewell

John Atherton

Really?  You need to look at this caption? 

Do you get where I'm coming from?  Week after week the Post had nice, pleasant covers and then-- like an alien space-craft come to blow your mind-- comes a Norman Rockwell cover.

That's what made him so great!

So, Happy Birthday again, Norman.  You'll always be the King in my book.