Jan 6, 2014

Was Norman Rockwell Gay?

Most of my relatives are allergic to reading.  You never see a book in their houses.  My parents owned none.  My Grandma Davis had a few, but they were about art (she originally planned to become an artist), and no ancient Greek or Renaissance art with naked men -- she liked American regionalism, artists like Grant Wood, Thomas Hart Benton, N.C. Wyeth, and Grandma Moses.

She especially liked illustrator Norman Rockwell (1894-1978), whose covers of The Saturday Evening Post and Boys Life depicted a stylized, ultra-conservative small-town America where men hung out at the barber shop, biddies gossipped across white picket fences, teen boys and girls shared sodas, and everyone cheered at Veterans' Day parades.

The world was so intensely heterosexist, so absolutely certain that every boy longed for girls and every girl longed for boys, that even as a kid I found it disturbing.  

And the characters -- not realistic so much as grotesque.  No handsome faces or muscular physiques to be found anywhere, just hideous caricatures of what human beings looked like.  Rockwell seemed repulsed by the human body, and wanted viewers to share in his revulsion.

Except for soldiers, sailors, and teenage boys.  They were occasionally depicted as attractive, with tight chests and gleaming muscles.

Soldiers, sailors, and teenage boys?  Does that suggest that Rockwell was...um...

In American Mirror: The Life and Art of Norman Rockwell, Deborah Solomon suggests that he was gay.  He had strong same-sex friendships throughout his life, and marriages "of convenience."  He nurtured his male models, often becoming their life-long friends.

But then...where's the homoeroticism in his art?  The muscular physiques, the buddy-bonding?  Rockwell depicted an infinite number of male-female bonds, but barely any boys together or men together.  The only significant male pairs are young boys and adult authority figures: fathers, doctors, teachers.

It seems more likely that Rockwell was attracted to the "innocence" of youth, its freedom from icky things like sex.

Solomon finds homoeroticism in "The Runaway," where a cop brings a young boy to a diner before returning him to his parents.

I don't.  Try J.C. Leyendecker, for real homoerotic illustrations.