Rockwell and Ruby

April 17, 2007

I’ve never really thought much about Norman Rockwell. My parents, being of an older generation, seemed to like him, and I saw occasional cute little paintings of his as book covers and whatnot. I guess that if I had put any attention into it, I would have characterized him as a kitschy Americana painter. Several steps above Thomas Kinkade, but not “serious”.

Today, that changed. I saw a painting that I’ve never seen before, never heard of, despite its being one of his more famous works.

The Problem We All Live With

This painting is titled “The Problem We All Live With”, and it is a portrait of Ruby Bridges on her way to kindergarten. She is being escorted by U.S. marshals, since none of the local or state officials in New Orleans or Louisiana would provide any protection to this six-year old girl.

One woman stood in front of her and threatened to poison her. Another woman put a black doll in a coffin and posed outside her school. Only one teacher agreed to teach her. (That teacher was “not invited to return” to her job at the end of the year.) Her father lost his job, and her grandparents were evicted from their home.

This painting is about hate. That hate is not gone. It didn’t vanish 46 years ago. It went underground, and appears only in not-so-secret “codes”: “states’ rights”, “illegal immigration”, “jihadi”, and a thousand other subtle and not-so-subtle words.

“Hey, it’s just a joke.” “Hey, it’s just a song.” “Hey, it’s just entertainment.” “Hey, it’s just politics.” “Hey, I’m just being politically incorrect.” “Lighten up.”

Bullshit. It’s all the same. It’s that ugly word, scrawled on the wall.

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7 Responses to “Rockwell and Ruby”

  1. Absolutely. True.

    Excellent.

  2. Bon said

    i had no idea Rockwell ever tackled something so…well…un-Rockwellian. thanks for the education.

    and for a lovely post, that made me think.

  3. maja said

    While I had seen the image before, I am such an art snob, I totally missed the subtlety in that image…thanks for bringing it to my attention. Thanks for the thoughtful post.

  4. Kevin Tanner said

    We still have a lot to learn. This is a dramatic piece of our history captured in art.

  5. LeeDoJo said

    I completely disagree. This piece is about bravery even in the most innocent of hearts – besides aren’t we all just that – brave creatures ready to stand up for ourselves when we believe in something no matter what age we are? And as for Norman, he has always been able to capture moments when life was beautiful in America. Both are simply beautiful individuals.

  6. Dean Konop said

    I totally agree with you. I am an art teacher and i am picking paintings that are famous that actually have a meaning and I definitely think that this should be included. Thank you. It has to be shown and it has to be remembered because hate can creep up at anytime and we have to be be reminded about it so it will never happen again. Norman Rockwell should have won the Nobel Peace Prize for this painting alone.

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