Thursday, October 13, 2016

Rockwell Represents Russell

     I've finally been going through some comments I hadn't moderated yet.   I apologize to anyone waiting for an immediate answer.  Most of my post views are of items three years or older, so I haven't checked the comment tab.  Sorry to those waiting for an immediate answer.  

     One commenter brought up an intriguing topic.  There was an anonymous post from someone who said Jane Russell was a relative of theirs and mentioned a Norman Rockwell painting Russell was featured in.  I was not aware of a painting of Rockwell with Russell in it.  Once I saw it though, I recognized it.  Frankly, who wouldn't find Jane worthy of immortality?

     Apparently it caused a major controversy at the time.  The painting is entitled Girl in the Mirror from the March 8, 1954 Saturday Evening Post.  According to the model for the painting, Mary Whalen Leonard, Rockwell regretted featuring Jane Russell in the painting.  I was surprised he faced the same type of backlash in the 1950's which he would certainly face today.  The controversy?  It allegedly told girls they could only be movie stars.  Norman Rockwell claimed he was trying to say "the little girl is not wondering if she looks like the star but just trying to estimate her own charms" [Saturday Evening Post].

     So the grievance culture is not new.  Unfortunately the artist's intent is not what a work of art is judged by.  It's by how it is interpreted by society as a whole.  If we follow the intent of the artist, it is not different than playing dress up.  Young children often play dress up or try on their parents clothes and their cosmetic products.  They try to act like those around them.  Why else would there be toy telephones, dolls and kitchens if there was no desire to imitate others?  If these products don't make money, I assume the companies producing them would cease production.

     The inclusion of the celebrity takes the piece to an entirely different level.  I understand Norman Rockwell's intent.  He wanted the girl to look at a pretty woman and wonder if she's just as stunning.  This could have been accomplished just as well with a beautiful picture of an unknown woman such as a model in the magazine.  The girl could also have seen a beautiful woman in the house or even just looking out the window and saw someone random walking down the street.  This meaning is blown up once Jane Russell arrives on the scene.

     There is no denying Jane Russell was beautiful.  A striking brunette with well admired features (I'm not going there people), Jane was a great actress and singer.  When I think of Jane Russell, I don't think of her as just a movie star.  She has more intellect and grit.  Out of the movie stars of the time, she seems the most real and down to earth of them.  Just compare her to co-star Marilyn Monroe in Gentlemen Prefer Blondes.  While I know Monroe is playing a character, Russell seems strong and real.  In every performance of hers I've seen, she portrays a strong, powerful woman.  Body aside, for the 1950's, Jane Russell was empowering and feminine.

     So the question becomes, was the point of the painting to advocate for something or was the objective to merely reflecting reality.  Do young girls no longer get into their mother's makeup?  Does celebrity culture's standard of beauty no longer permeate society?  Do people still admire and mimic celebrities and their hair, makeup, clothing, shoes, jewelry, cars, houses, technology and more?  Absolutely.  Why else would the Kardashians be the epitome of culture?  They're business model is entirely based on beauty, advertising the products which they 'use', and people imitating there looks.  The skyrocketing of butt implants, waist cinching, and those Kylie Jenner lip kits by those who want to 'measure up' certainly show that people trying to be as beautiful as a celebrity is not a new concept.  The question we should be asking is not does this image say we should imitate celebrities, but why is our culture based on beauty - not character.  And who knew it started with Norman Rockwell and Jane Russell?

Rockwell's Favorite Model
Interview with Rockwell Model Mary Whalen Leonard
Beyond Objectification

1 comment:

Mim said...

There's something refreshingly down to earth about Jane Russell. Looked like a goddess, but you could imagine just hanging out with her and having fun.


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