Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Pg. 99: Richard Halpern's "Norman Rockwell"

The current feature at the Page 99 Test: Richard Halpern's Norman Rockwell: The Underside of Innocence.

About the book, from the publisher:

Norman Rockwell’s scenes of everyday small-town life are among the most indelible images in all of twentieth-century art. While opinions of Rockwell vary from uncritical admiration to sneering contempt, those who love him and those who dismiss him do agree on one thing: his art embodies a distinctively American style of innocence.

In this sure-to-be controversial book, Richard Halpern argues that this sense of innocence arises from our reluctance — and also Rockwell’s — to acknowledge the often disturbing dimensions of his works. Rockwell’s paintings frequently teem with perverse acts of voyeurism and desire but contrive to keep these acts invisible — or rather, hidden in plain sight, available for unacknowledged pleasure but easily denied by the viewer.

Rockwell emerges in this book, then, as a deviously brilliant artist, a remorseless diagnostician of the innocence in which we bathe ourselves, and a continuing, unexpected influence on contemporary artists. Far from a banal painter of the ordinary, Halpern argues, Rockwell is someone we have not yet dared to see for the complex creature he is: a wholesome pervert, a knowing innocent, and a kitschy genius.

Provocative but judicious, witty but deeply informed, Norman Rockwell is a book rich in suggestive propositions and eye-opening details — one that will change forever the way we think about this American icon and his works.

Read an excerpt from Norman Rockwell: The Underside of Innocence.

Listen to Halpern parse the "innocence industry" on NPR.

Richard Halpern is Sir William Osler Professor of English at Johns Hopkins University. His books include Shakespeare's Perfume: Sodomy and Sublimity in the Sonnets, Wilde, Freud and Lacan, Shakespeare Among the Moderns, and The Poetics of Primitive Accumulation: English Renaissance Culture and the Genealogy of Capital.

The Page 99 Test: Norman Rockwell: The Underside of Innocence.

--Marshal Zeringue