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American Mirror: The Life and Art of Norman Rockwell [Kindle Edition]

Deborah Solomon
2.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)

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Book Description



"Welcome to Rockwell Land," writes Deborah Solomon in the introduction to this spirited and authoritative biography of the painter who provided twentieth-century America with a defining image of itself. As the star illustrator of The Saturday Evening Post for nearly half a century, Norman Rockwell mingled fact and fiction in paintings that reflected the we-the-people, communitarian ideals of American democracy. Freckled Boy Scouts and their mutts, sprightly grandmothers, a young man standing up to speak at a town hall meeting, a little black girl named Ruby Bridges walking into an all-white school--here was an America whose citizens seemed to believe in equality and gladness for all.

Who was this man who served as our unofficial "artist in chief" and bolstered our country's national identity? Behind the folksy, pipe-smoking façade lay a surprisingly complex figure--a lonely painter who suffered from depression and was consumed by a sense of inadequacy. He wound up in treatment with the celebrated psychoanalyst Erik Erikson. In fact, Rockwell moved to Stockbridge, Massachusetts so that he and his wife could be near Austen Riggs, a leading psychiatric hospital. "What's interesting is how Rockwell's personal desire for inclusion and normalcy spoke to the national desire for inclusion and normalcy," writes Solomon. "His work mirrors his own temperament--his sense of humor, his fear of depths--and struck Americans as a truer version of themselves than the sallow, solemn, hard-bitten Puritans they knew from eighteenth-century portraits."

Deborah Solomon, a biographer and art critic, draws on a wealth of unpublished letters and documents to explore the relationship between Rockwell's despairing personality and his genius for reflecting America's brightest hopes. "The thrill of his work," she writes, "is that he was able to use a commercial form [that of magazine illustration] to thrash out his private obsessions." In American Mirror, Solomon trains her perceptive eye not only on Rockwell and his art but on the development of visual journalism as it evolved from illustration in the 1920s to photography in the 1930s to television in the 1950s. She offers vivid cameos of the many famous Americans whom Rockwell counted as friends, including President Dwight Eisenhower, the folk artist Grandma Moses, the rock musician Al Kooper, and the generation of now-forgotten painters who ushered in the Golden Age of illustration, especially J. C. Leyendecker, the reclusive legend who created the Arrow Collar Man.

Although derided by critics in his lifetime as a mere illustrator whose work could not compete with that of the Abstract Expressionists and other modern art movements, Rockwell has since attracted a passionate following in the art world. His faith in the power of storytelling puts his work in sync with the current art scene. American Mirror brilliantly explains why he deserves to be remembered as an American master of the first rank.

Product Description


"Vivid and touching...This is the definitive biography of an American master who came in through the back door."--Steve Martin "Solomon offers something new, entertaining, and disturbing....["American Mirror"] is a revelation."--John Wilmerding, "The New York Times""Every American who cherishes the traditions that make this country great should acquire a copy of "American Mirror," Deborah Solomon's brilliantly insightful chronicle of the life of illustrator Norman Rockwell."--Jonathan Lopez, "The Wall Street Journal ""A masterpiece of the biographer's art."--Lee Siegel, "The New Yorker""Deborah Solomon has created a biography as vivid and touching as a Rockwell interior. This is the definitive biography of an American master who came in through the back door."--Steve Martin, author of "An Object of Beauty """American Mirror" is a masterpiece--vivid, forthright and insightful. Through superb research and keen interpretation, Deborah Solomon tells the story of an artist so many thought they knew well, and perhaps did not know at all. An epic achievement."--Laurie Norton Moffatt, director of the Norman Rockwell Museum "Norman Rockwell turns out not to have lived in the America he invented, the republic of station wagons, Santa Claus, and good citizenship. Deborah Solomon offers up a textured portrait of the man who carried no pictures of his family and never met a therapist he didn't like. Solomon masters foreground, background, and middle ground in this taut, beautifully written biography."--Stacy Schiff, author of "Cleopatra: A Life "and winner of the Pulitzer Prize for Biography "Norman Rockwell remains our country's most beloved, most reviled, and most misunderstood painter. In "American Mirror," Deborah Solomon tells his remarkable story with uncommon intelligence and grace."--Roz Chast, "New Yorker" cartoonist "Deborah Solomon has done the culture a huge favor by placing Norman Rockwell among the most important American artists of the twentieth century. She reveals Rockwell in all his contradictions--celebrant of family values but indifferent husband, self-professed New Englander but restless traveler, apolitical for most of his life but by the end a passionate believer in civil rights. This is a great biography of a singular American genius, who has long deserved it."--Bruce McCall, "New Yorker "illustrator "In "American Mirror," Deborah Solomon has set herself, pointillist detail by detail, to unraveling the mystery of Norman Rockwell--the friendliest of painters who turns out to be the most complex of men. This is that rarest of books: the biography as page-turner, leading you effortlessly onwards."--Daphne Merkin, author of "Enchantment ""Deborah Solomon's beautiful, complex life of Norman Rockwell shows how his beloved pictures--many of which appeared in the "Saturday Evening Post--"expressed Americans' hopes for the nation, even though they did not often show the real America."--Alan Brinkley, author of "The Publisher: Henry Luce and His American Century ""Esteemed art critic and biographer Solomon turns our perception of Norman Rockwell inside out in this fast-paced yet richly interpretative inquiry...Solomon's penetrating and commanding biography is brimming with surprising details and provocative juxtapositions."--Donna Seaman, "Booklist "(starred review)

About the Author

Deborah Solomon is the author of two previous biographies of American artists: "Jackson Pollock: A Biography" and "Utopia Parkway: The Life and Work of Joseph Cornell "(FSG, 1997). She has written about art and culture for many publications, and her weekly interview column, "Questions For," appeared in "The New York Times Magazine" from 2003 to 2011. She lives in New York City with her family.

Product details

  • Format: Kindle Edition
  • File Size: 11212 KB
  • Print Length: 512 pages
  • Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux (5 Nov. 2013)
  • Sold by: Amazon Media EU S.à r.l.
  • Language: English
  • Text-to-Speech: Enabled
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  • Word Wise: Enabled
  • Average Customer Review: 2.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #717,322 Paid in Kindle Store (See Top 100 Paid in Kindle Store)
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
This book is undoubtedly a very well researched memory and analysis of the artist. I recommend it, especially to the reader who may be an artist him/herself.
At times the fine detail can become boring. Nevertheless, the recording of fine detail is an aspect of biography one shouldn't really criticise.
There are some good illustrations and reproductions of his work, some thankfully in colour.
At times, the author's psychotherapeutic analyses of Rockwell's preference for male companionship and favouritism for boys he used as his models for illustration become irritating. No doubt Rockwell had his preferences but I feel the author over-analysed the tiniest details in paintings and ascribed over-intricate sexual interpretations to all of them.
His pictures probaby tell the truth much better
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4 of 7 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Vitriolic outpourings of a contumely hack. 12 Dec. 2013
One wonders how such a book can get published solely based upon an authors deep-seated resentment and mind rotting envy.
Clearly the author has hang ups regarding her own artistic ability and most probably in possession of a visual IQ way below average.
Writing about a great artist should be the task of a great author and not given to someone evidently of an unsound mind and frigid nature.
Fly away on your broomstick DS,you are way out of your depth.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on (beta) 2.8 out of 5 stars  121 reviews
129 of 143 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars biography dragged down by excessive opinion and interpretation 4 Dec. 2013
By Mark bennett - Published on
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. Predictable down to the authors page of sexuality baiting which was the cornerstone of the book's publicity campaign.

Then there is what she does with regard to pedophilia which is worthy of a specific example:

"we are made to wonder whether Rockwell's complicated interest in the depiction of preadolescent boys was shadowed by pedophilic impulses. But an impulse is not a crime. There is no evidence that he acted on his impulses or behaved in a way that was inappropriate for its time"

Note the careful poison pen craftsmanship of the words. She moves from "wondering" about something to saying its "not a crime". Then she finishes off with "acted on his impulses". No wondering anymore. No speculative tone anymore. She picks the words "acted on his impluses" to directly imply that he had them.

Going further, she doesn't straightforwardly say that he never acted inappropriate. She carefully inserts the qualifier "inappropriate for its time". The qualifier outright leaves the impression that by current standards, his behavior with male children was inappropriate. This is not the careful tone of a biographer. This is the sort of thing one finds in tabloids and gossip columns. Its all the worse because this is no untrained person. This is a graduate of the Columbia School of Journalism and a former employee of the New York Times. She knows what basic ethics are and certainly knows what she is doing by engaging in this style of writing.

The other thing to note about the book is that certain arguments it makes seem derivative of "Norman Rockwell: The Underside of Innocence" by Richard Halpern published in 2006. She mentions Halpern by name in the book, but never this particular book. It seems unlikely that she would not be familiar with the book and if she was familiar, she should have properly given it credit. Halpern does a sexualized analysis of Rockwell, but unlike Solomon avoids mixing that art analysis with standard biography.

I dont really much agree with the idea of Rockwell as Mirror either. If he was a mirror, it was a mirror reflecting a distilation of American commerical art rather than anything to do with real American life.
172 of 197 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars A dishonest, sleazy biography of an American icon 4 Dec. 2013
By Adventurous Reader - Published on
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.
97 of 111 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Adds nothing but detraction 11 Dec. 2013
By Patrick Toner - Published on
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
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.

Edit: apparently my reference to my thorough review has been edited out of this review. Google my name and Norman Rockwell and it will turn up. Apologies for the complication.
75 of 85 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Not the definitive bio on Norman Rockwell 21 Dec. 2013
By Richard - Published on
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? A good college professor would have taken Solomon to task for much of what she writes. But alas, there was no college professor helping to edit this. What we're left with is this mess of a book.

I await the definitive bio of Norman Rockwell, hopefully sometime in the future. We all need to cleanse our psyches from this one first.
58 of 70 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Don't Think and Write while on Gender Studies 14 Dec. 2013
By Ex Lib - Published on
Given the controversy that has emerged regarding this book, I decided to read a couple of chapters of it at a local chain bookstore. Over the course of a couple of hours and a cup of coffee, I managed to get through almost half of it and read the sections where Mr. Rockwell's sexuality is at issue. I think the problem here is that people seem don't realize that the book's author endorses and is apparently conversant in "gender studies." What is gender studies? In short, it's the idea that biological sex -- male and female sex organs -- don't necessarily determine sexual identity. In other words, sexuality is "socially constructed" -- the heavy ideas of the likes of Lacan, Foucault, and various feminist theorists. In fact, although not mentioned in the book -- in the sections I read -- I have to wonder if the title of the book is a bit of an inside wink and nod in the direction of Lacan and his idea of "the Mirror." The problem with the material I read in the book is that, to my way of thinking, it's a bit like a Rorschach test: Ms. Solomon looks at certain details of Rockwell's life and, with the oh-so-heady ideas of gender studies, she can "queer" him. Well, perhaps this says something more about Ms. Solomon's psychology and neuroses (thank you, Dr. Freud) than it does about Rockwell. In other words, a sexualized mind, perhaps obsessed with sex, will see sex where it wants to. This reminds me of people's reactions to James' short story, "The Turn of the Screw": depending on how depraved or neurotic one's self is will determine the degree of depravity one believes is going on in the story itself. So, perhaps this book about Rockwell is more a mirror of its author than a mirror of Rockwell. But, it's an effective means of psychological warfare: take iconic paintings of Americana, images that remind us of the goodness we are capable of, and place an interpretative framework over them that now makes us question if what the paintings are really about isn't something perverted. It defiles the good, inverts it. Don't let the intelligentsia and cultural Bolsheviks conduct psych warfare against you --
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