Monday, December 23, 2013

WARRING WITH TROLLS, part 6

 "To live is to war with trolls."  -- Henrik Ibsen


 One of the most interesting stories from Deborah Solomon's new biography of Norman Rockwell involves his famous series of paintings, the Four Freedoms.  During World War II, Rockwell wanted to aid the war effort but was too old to enlist and not physically suited to be a fighter.  He set out instead to illustrate Franklin Roosevelt's "Four Freedoms" in a way that would inspire patriotism and encourage the purchase of war bonds.

After sketching his four paintings, Rockwell went to Washington to donate his art to the government but the government wasn't interested.  Rockwell showed his drafts to the Office of War Information but the official in charge responded:
The last war, you illustrators did the posters.  This war we're going to use fine arts men, real artists.  If you want to make a contribution to the war effort you can do some of these pen and ink drawings for the Marine Corps calisthenics manual.

Solomon deduces that the official who rejected Rockwell's art was the "pompous" Archibald MacLeish, poet and Pulitzer prize winning playwright.  MacLeish was the Assistant Director of the agency.  He said he preferred to inspire the country with pictures from "real" artists such as Marc Chagall, Salvador Dali and Japanese artist Yasuo Kuniyoshi (6 months after Pearl Harbor!)

Rarely has a misguided act of cultural arrogance been so promptly, thoroughly and satisfyingly refuted.

Stung, Rockwell took the rejected paintings to the Saturday Evening Post which used them as internal illustrations.  Editor Ben Hibbs later wrote:
The results astonished us all....Requests to reprint flooded in from other publications.  Various government agencies and private organizations made millions of reprints  and distributed them not only in this country but all over the world.  Those four pictures quickly became the best known and most appreciated paintings of that era.  They appeared right at a time when when the war was going against us on the battle fronts, and the American people needed the inspirational message which they conveyed so forcefully and so beautifully.

Subsequently the Treasury Department took the original paintings on a tour of the nation as the centerpiece of a Post art show to sell war bonds.  They were viewed by 1,222,000 people in 16 leading cities and were instrumental in selling $132,992,539 worth of bonds.
The Post received 60,000 letters about the paintings:





In the meantime, the imperious Archibald MacLeish lasted a mere eight months in his job at the Office of War Information.  After he left, the OWI sent a film crew to Rockwell's studio and filmed a five minute newsreel about his Four Freedoms.  The government's newsreel played in movie theaters around the country.

MacLeish was a brilliant intellectual but he let his reflexive cultural arrogance substitute for thinking about what type of art would be effective.  In doing so, he became just one more of those obstructive trolls described by Ibsen. 

11 Comments:

Blogger Richard said...

>Marc Chagall, Salvador Dali and Yasuo Kuniyoshi


Those choices boggle the mind.

12/23/2013 8:42 AM  
Blogger kev ferrara said...

MacLeish is a perfect example of how ideology messes up otherwise intelligent people.

He spent years postulating and pontificating on the nature of Art after he became one of the "lost generation" in Paris. ("Art shouldn't mean, it should be", he once said, and famously.)

Later, after the stock market crash, he became more interested in artists being in actual social discourse with the public at large, so he probably changed his tune on whether art should be allowed to mean anything. Although the idea of Salvador Dali making war propaganda is just buck nuts; that's like appointing Rodney Dangerfield as White House Press Secretary.

If we look at MacLeish's criteria laid out, Norman Rockwell was the perfect example of just about everything he dreamed of in an Art messenger. Except of course that MacLeish had dreamed it would be a poet (himself) who would be the man for the job, and he was indoctrinated into clueless Modernist snobbery which put down artists who were clear and popular communicators.

Which is all to say, that he fell prey to the typical traps that intellectuals fall into. Which is that, because he was up in his head, he couldn't appreciate the reality of his convictions. And thus couldn't see that, in practice, his views were at odds with each other. Thus, for all his talk and intellectual surety, he was profoundly confused on the matter he was most evangelical about.

Happy Holidays everybody!

12/23/2013 10:59 AM  
Blogger FlatClem said...

That being said, and i understand the time period and the context, i don't think that talking about 'arrogance' to defend someone who actively wanted to produce war propaganda is really appropriate.

Politic and art doesnt always mix well to me.

12/23/2013 4:40 PM  
Blogger David Apatoff said...

Richard-- Yes, it was reeeally difficult to make it all the way through this post without using the term "blockhead" even once.

Kev Ferrara-- Thanks for filling out the picture of MacLeish. Yes, it is possible to be a true intellectual and a lion of culture and still be an ignorant, closed minded troll who impedes the path of art. It was so obvious to everyone around him and yet he didn't see it.

FlatClem-- I agree that art and politics don't always mix well. I 'm not sure that anyone talked about "arrogance" to "defend" someone who wants to produce war propaganda; I believe the word is being used to attack such people.

12/24/2013 1:27 AM  
Blogger chris bennett said...

Fortunately, in Britain, we had the more level-headed Kenneth Clark who was heading the war artists commissioning board. This, allied to the 'mass observation' movement spearheaded by the GPO film unit, meant that a broader, more flexible approach was adopted which. included a 'documentary' attitude by many of the artists employed.

Having said that, the money would have been better spent on a couple of extra Spitfires or extra equipment to dig out the wounded from the rubble of our cities.

And having said that... Um... Merry Christmas everybody! :)

12/24/2013 6:16 AM  
Blogger Richard said...

His plan sort of caught on in the long run though, eh?

http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/modern-art-was-cia-weapon-1578808.html

12/24/2013 10:39 AM  
Blogger harold henriksen said...

I remember reading this in Rockwell's
my adventures as an illustrator.
it is amazing MacLeish didn't
realize how these paintings would
be loved by the American public.

12/24/2013 11:00 AM  
Blogger etc, etc said...

In 1939, Clark visited Australia, and later referred to it as "that intolerable continent", adding that Australian galleries had the worst art but the best Victorian pornography in the world.

Hilarious!

And a Merry Christmas to you Chris!

12/24/2013 12:11 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Nathan Zakheim- criminal, cultist, violent extremist, supporter of child molestation

A man by the calling of Nathan Zakheim, who resides in Los Angeles, California, and works as an art collector, has a very sordid dark history involved in numerous cult activities. He has also engaged in crime in this regard, as well as violence and extremism.

He also openly supports a group of child molesting criminals called The Hare Krishna Cult.

He apparently runs his art collection/restoration business with his wife and two children.

Business Address:
P.O. Box 11929
960 N La Brea Avenue
Marina Del Rey, California 90295

His email: zakheim@earthlink.net
His Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/naara.vishwakarma
His LinkedIn: www.linkedin.com/pub/nathan-zakheim/26/965/235

His wife Rupa Manjari Zakheim's email: roupamanjaridevidasi@gmail.com
Her Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/RoupaManjaridevidasi
Her LinkedIn: www.linkedin.com/pub/rupa-manjari-devi-dasi/26/964/57a
Her Freelancer profile: http://www.freelancer.com.jm/u/RupaZakheim.html

His son Kuva Zakheim's Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/kuva108
His daughter Shakuntala's Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/shakuntala.zakheim.7

This message is a warning to all present or future business associates/partners of Nathan Zakheim. I want you to be aware of his sordid past history and what a sick and dangerous individual this man is.

12/25/2013 7:36 PM  
Blogger Unknown said...

Why is feeedom of speeches head kind of lightened? Like someone opened photoshop and just selected his head then cranked the brightness

12/27/2013 6:26 PM  
Anonymous Jack Disbrow said...

Cartooning Course Just re-published! www.famous-artists-school.com/

We are proud to introduce the Famous Artists Cartooning Course – the rebirth of a classic! Created by the giants of cartooning, it has such a solid-gold pedigree we are reissuing it without modernizing the text. It offers you practical teaching that is the closest thing to actually sitting in the cartoonist’s studio.

Our Cartooning Course was envisioned, created, and illustrated by the giants of classic cartooning. Their names are familiar to both cartoon aficionados and anyone who’s read the funny papers over the years: Rube Goldberg, Milton Caniff, Al Capp, Whitney Darrow Jr., Willard Mullin, Harry Haenigsen, and more… http://arthomestudy.com/index.php/cac/categories/C35/

Famous Artists School was founded in 1948 in Westport, Connecticut, a community where many artists chose to live because of its pleasant rural nature combined with its proximity to the art markets in New York City.

The Founders were twelve artists who were giants in their field, nationally known and recognized for their creations. This was the “golden age” of American illustration: magazines were in great demand, and stories were illustrated almost entirely by painting and drawing.

The Founders, led by Albert Dorne and Norman Rockwell, had a vision of making high-quality art instruction available to students all across America. These artists knew that there were many people with the desire to produce art; every day they received requests from interested potential students. Of course, these prominent and busy artists didn’t have time to teach individual students.

The Founders’ great idea was to pool their knowledge, insights, and secrets, and create a comprehensive art Course that students could study in the comfort and convenience of their own homes. To fully involve students in the learning process, the Course was designed to include Assignments to be sent in for critiquing and evaluation by a staff of professional artist-instructors, who were trained and mentored by the twelve Founders.

1/27/2014 10:28 AM  

Post a Comment

<< Home