©1943 SEPS: Licensed by Curtis Publishing, Indianapolis, IN From the permanent collection of Norman Rockwell Museum

©1943 SEPS: Licensed by Curtis Publishing, Indianapolis, IN From the permanent collection of Norman Rockwell Museum

Norman Rockwell’s Four Freedoms – Emblems of Hope and Freedom.

When President Obama was bestowed the Nobel Peace prize this week, several aspects struck me as Rockwellian. The first was the President’s demeanor of humbleness. Rockwell’s subjects are never boastful. They exude personal happiness, but are never egoistic or proud at the expense of another. Theirs is a shared happiness, on behalf of community, family or friendship. Personal achievement is only rarely a Rockwell subject – doing deeds for the larger good is a theme that is often depicted in Rockwell’s work. President Obama accepted the prize as, “an affirmation of American leadership on behalf of aspirations held by people in all nations.

The spirit of hopefulness conveyed by the award is another quality that struck me as Rockwellian. The Nobel committee noted, “Only very rarely has a person to the same extent as Obama captured the world’s attention and given its people hope for a better future,” That hope for a better future, one filled with optimism, is a thread that runs through much of Rockwell’s work.

Coincidental to the President receiving the Nobel Peace Prize award, an opinion editorial about Norman Rockwell’s Four Freedoms written by Bruce Cole, former head of the National Endowment for the Humanities, was published in the Wall Street Journal.

The Four Freedoms were, of course, not Norman Rockwell’s personal ideas. As Mr. Cole reminds us, “Freedom of speech and expression” and “freedom of worship” are…from the Bill of Rights. But the other two—”freedom from want” and “freedom from fear,” which the president

[Roosevelt] defines as “a world-wide reduction of armaments to such a point . . . that no nation will be in a position to commit an act of physical aggression against any neighbor”—are Roosevelt’s, or perhaps his wife Eleanor’s, utopian wishes for universal rights that were to become part of the United Nations Charter.”

Mr. Cole believes that, “In “Freedom of Speech,” … Rockwell found a subject that is active and public, a subject he could grasp and shape into his greatest painting forging traditional American illustration into a powerful and enduring work of art.” Mr. Cole interprets the speaker at the town meeting in Rockwell’s painting of Freedom of Speech as “an active public participant in democracy,… a defender of it. He is the very embodiment of free speech, a living manifestation of that abstract right—an image that transforms principle, paint and, yes, creed, into an indelible image and a brilliant and beloved American icon still capable of inspiring millions world-wide.”

The Norwegian Nobel Committee notes, “Dialogue and negotiations are preferred as instruments for resolving even the most difficult international conflicts.” Norman Rockwell’s Four Freedoms are emblematic of dialogue, hope and aspiration for freedom, one of our uniquely American values, and one that is embraced with hopefulness by the Nobel Peace Committee through their bestowal of their award on President Obama.

Note —Mr. Cole, an art historian and former chairman of the National Endowment for the Humanities, is president of the American Revolution Center at Valley Forge, Pa.

Link to the Wall Street Journal article by Bruce Cole http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052970203440104574406903628933162.html

Link to the Nobel Peace Prize Announcement


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