Tuesday, April 1, 2008

Art Masterpiece #2: Norman Rockwell

Who doesn't love this guy? His Saturday Evening Post covers are famous for his unique humor, style, and ability to tell a story. Here are a few of my favorite paintings:

There are so many great Rockwell prints, but the one I shared with the 1st graders has a great story behind it. Some of you... um... older readers might be familiar with this already. But it was new to me.

In 1943, America was in the middle of WWII. Franklin Roosevelt gave a speech talking about why we were fighting in that war, and it became known as the Four Freedoms speech. Norman Rockwell, 50 years old, heard that speech and decided he wanted to create a painting for each of the four freedoms. They were:

Freedom of Speech

Freedom from Want

Freedom to Worship

Freedom from Fear

The painting I showed in class was one of those four. Here it is. Can you guess which freedom this represents?

Some of the kids thought it was Freedom from Want, and that's a good guess. But actually, this is Freedom from Fear.

To help them understand why this painting is a representation of Freedom from Fear, I told them about the air raids in Europe. I explained that during an air raid, the lights in the entire city would go out, and any lights from inside a building had to be blocked by black curtains. This was the only way people could "hide" from bombers flying overhead. That's a pretty scary situation.

But this painting doesn't take place in Europe. It takes place in America. And like all of Rockwell's paintings, there are clues to tell us the story. It's hard to see, but the father is holding a newspaper with headlines about the war in Europe. The partly obscured text reads: "Bombings Ki-" and "Horror Hit-" But these little boys are not living with the kind of in-your-face fear people were facing in Europe. They're already sleeping, their faces sweet and innocent. The lights are on in the house and there are no blackout curtains on the windows. See the reflection of a window in the painting above the boys' bed? To Rockwell, this was one meaning of the phrase "Freedom from Fear."

Here are his paintings for the other four freedoms.

Freedom from Want:

Freedom of Speech:

Freedom to Worship:
This art masterpiece presentation had more history in it than any I've ever done, or probably ever will do. There was a lot to explain, and I had to do it in a way they could understand without getting lost in the details. In that way it was challenging. I was worried I'd lose their interest. But I didn't. Just the opposite in fact.

There's something powerful about explaining to children our country's fundamental beliefs about basic rights. This is the heart of what America is all about. It's what our country was founded on - what men fought to establish, and what men have periodically had to fight to preserve. Not everyone in the world believes individuals should have these freedoms. WWII is a perfect example of what happens when such people rise to power. But those of us who cherish those freedoms know they are worth fighting for. And Americans weren't the only ones dying to protect those rights. But I digress... I didn't get into all that with those little munchkins.

I explained the four freedoms in very basic terms. Freedom to Worship means your government doesn't get to tell you what church to go to (the way the kings of England did). We each get to choose for ourselves how we will worship, if we do so at all.

The Freedom of Speech painting had a neat story behind it to help illustrate this right. When Rockwell was looking for ideas for this painting, he attended a town hall type meeting. A man got up and talked for awhile about an issue. Most people did not agree with him and did not like what he had to say. But they listened anyway. That's what freedom of speech is about.

We didn't talk a lot about Freedom from Want in class, but to me that means having the freedom to provide for yourself. A lot of the starving people in the world are without food not because there's some sort of shortage of corn or whatever, it's because they are at the mercy of corrupt governments who couldn't care less if their own population is starving. Free markets and free governments give individuals what they need: the ability and satisfaction of working to provide themselves with food, shelter, and basic wants. This is the foundation of the phrase "life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness." Governments cannot guarantee everyone will BE happy. That is an obligation that falls on our own shoulders. But governments can protect your right to pursue what happiness means to you.

So that's the latest Art Masterpiece. I'll be posting another one soon...


Roccy said...

Love it!! What a fantastic piece. Keep 'em coming!

(BTW, Colt's now throwing up)

Matt & Jodi said...

Wow! I've always liked Norman Rockwell paintings, I just didn't know the history behind them. Very interesting!