American Mirror is a biography of Norman Rockwell, the iconic American painter and illustrator known for his nostalgic, idealized depictions of American life. Written by Deborah Solomon, a former art critic for the New York Times, the book provides a detailed look at Rockwell’s life and work, and explores the ways in which his art both reflected and shaped American culture.
Early Life and Career:
The book begins with a detailed account of Rockwell’s childhood in New York City, and his early interest in art. Solomon describes how Rockwell’s talent was recognize at a young age, and how he began working as an illustrator while still in his teens. She also examines the influence of Rockwell’s family, particularly his father, who was a successful businessman with a strong interest in art.
Rockwell’s Years at The Saturday Evening Post:
The bulk of the book devote to Rockwell’s years as a staff illustrator for The Saturday Evening Post, a weekly magazine with a large circulation that was read by millions of Americans. Solomon chronicles Rockwell’s rise to prominence at the magazine, and provides detailed analyses of many of his most famous covers. She also discusses the ways in which Rockwell’s art reflected the values and concerns of middle-class Americans in the mid-twentieth century.
Rockwell’s Later Years:
The book also covers Rockwell’s later years, including his move to Stockbridge, Massachusetts, and his increasing interest in more serious, “fine art” painting. Solomon examines the critical reception of Rockwell’s work during this period, and the ways in which it both reflected and challenged the dominant trends in modern art.
One of the strengths of American Mirror is Solomon’s ability to situate Rockwell’s work within its broader historical and cultural context. She does an excellent job of showing how Rockwell’s art both reflected and helped to shape American society during a period of tremendous change and upheaval. She also provides insightful analyses of many of Rockwell’s most famous works, demonstrating the ways in which they convey complex messages about American identity, values, and aspirations.
However, the book is not without its weaknesses. At times, Solomon’s prose can be overly academic and dry, and her analyses of some of Rockwell’s works can feel overly cerebral and detached. Additionally, while Solomon does acknowledge some of the criticisms that have been leveled at Rockwell’s work, particularly in terms of its lack of diversity and engagement with social and political issues, she tends to gloss over these critiques and focus primarily on the positive aspects of Rockwell’s legacy.
Despite these limitations, American Mirror is an engaging and informative biography that sheds new light on the life and work of one of America’s most beloved artists. By providing a nuanced and detailed account of Rockwell’s career, Solomon invites readers to reconsider their assumptions about what constitutes “serious” art, and to appreciate the ways in which even seemingly simple images can hold deep meaning and resonance.