Life Imitates Norman Rockwell

Laguna Art Museum’s Executive Director Malcolm Warner reflects on Norman Rockwell, cartoons, and his recent trip to Chicago.
I collect cartoons about art museums. Since the joke often arises from the discomfort of bafflement of a museum visitor – the ordinary person out of their element – those of us in the museum profession can learn a lot from them.

There was a boom in museum-related cartoons with the coming of Abstract Expressionism, and Jackson Pollock may feature in more cartoons than any other artist. One of my favorites shows a couple looking at one of his paintings. The man has said something along the lines of “What’s the meaning of this kind of thing?” and the caption is his wife’s reply: “Well, what’s the meaning of you?”

Another of my favorite cartoons about people looking at art is Norman Rockwell’s Abstract and Concrete, in which a colorful, swirling Pollock is examined by a gray-suited man, presumably a down-to-earth type who likes things to be concrete rather than abstract.

On a recent visit to Chicago with members of the museum’s Contemporary Collectors Council, I happened to be wearing a gray jacket and looking at a Pollock in the Art Institute when Tracy Young took a photo of me from the back. Completely unintentionally we had recreated the Norman Rockwell.

More people looking at art. Here’s a photo of the group listening to a guide talk about the triumphantly successful art projects near the Art Institute in Millennium Park. In the background is Anish Kapoor’s monumental sculpture Cloud Gate, known to Chicagoans as “the Bean.”