Norman Rockwell was right, there is magic in the ordinary. Why do you suppose, years after his death and decades after the demise of the Saturday Evening Post Norman Rockwell’s art is still instantly recognizable?
He isn’t out there painting the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel, he hasn’t maimed himself fro the love of a soiled dove and he didn’t create penetrating insights into the human soul like Rembrandt, so why is his work so well known?
Because every single one of us has seen a table groaning with Thanksgiving or Christmas dinner, not very arty, but it burns its way into the memory with lazar power. We think Rockwell’s image of that roasted turkey sitting on that lace covered table with the ladder back chair is the real holiday dinner.
And now it’s your time. The holiday season is here and friends and family will be coming together, that table will get the extension, the good tablecloth will come out and the kitchen will be no safe place for husbands or dogs.
But what about artists?
Will you find time to make the season a season of art?
Advertisers have known all about the magic of Norman Rockwell. They work the table like a con-man sizing up a mark. No turkey comes to the pages of a magazine unbaked, no cranberry un-sauced, no pie without pumpkin and whipped cream. Why? Because they know it touches something basic in the human beast.
Take a look while you watch television tonight, among the underwear angels and the speeding, spinning cars how many images of steaming food get shot straight at your eyes through the ether?
You refuse to paint food. How cheap, crass and commercial. Of course painters from the dawn of time have done it but they lacked your esthetic sense. They were products of an unenlightened age. Crusty loaves of bread sitting next to cream bricks of butter and bowls of brown gravy just won’t cut it in the internet age.
Okay, so how about the table itself. No one ever goes to as much trouble to make a scene look perfect as the American homemaker does to get the holiday table perfect. Not wedding planners, not event planners, not politicos staging their holiday pictures for that run for office.
Think about all of the colors and dramatic lighting that goes into making a table fit for crowning with a roast turkey. Think about all of the generations of girls who grew up as forced labor for that holiday table. They have it imprinted on their very souls, no sin is worse that a sloppy holiday table.
Food still sucks as a subject for art!
Right, that’s why we have slick magazines like Gourmet or Cuisine, two cable channels devoted to making food into pornography, why Giada, Paula, Gordon Ramsey and the high priestess of food sin, Nigella spend their days making food into fantasy. It just isn’t fit for art.
That’s why Martha and all of her clones will tell you for hours on end just how to make that table sparkle.
Even the detritus of holiday meals can become the subject of art. Ever see a kid or a cat dive into the ruins of packaging, food or presents it doesn’t matter they tackle it like it was the best gift they ever saw.
I have pals in Mississippi who sent me books, feeding my addiction. Fortunately they sent it in boxes so my cats have had a new toy or two to play with even if they don’t read mysteries. A seventeen pound cat sitting in a box big enough for just one paperback book is a sight that would make the faces on Mount Rushmore crack a smile.
The holidays offer endless opportunities for marvelous images, if only you take the time to look. Don’t spend so much time preparing for the season that you miss the joy and the gifts of sight it brings. Take a minute to sketch out a kid or a cat playing in the after the feast trash. You’ll give yourself a smile and maybe a sale from someone without kids or cats but a passion for the holidays.