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Obama asks to borrow Rockwell painting

Posted by Sebastian Smee  July 6, 2011 09:32 AM

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Problem_We_All_Live_With_7_4.jpgIn the art world, people habitually conflate artistic conservatism with political conservatism, and - flipping the terms - artistic originality with political progressivism.

It's an understandable impulse, since no-one can deny that the fields of art and politics overlap.

But there are those who would like them to be perfectly congruent, and they are often dismayed and confused when told that, say, their favorite avant-garde artist was adamantly against the idea of a social safety net (Francis Bacon), that the 20th century's most protean artistic inventor was an apologist for Stalin (Pablo Picasso), that their favorite Impressionists were vilely anti-Semitic (Degas and Renoir) or that America's cheesiest, most jingoistic propagandist was also a champion of Civil Rights.

That would be Norman Rockwell (though, of course, he was much more than a cheesy propagandist).

The Norman Rockwell Museum in Stockbridge has just announced that President Obama has asked it if the White House can borrow one of its most treasured paintings, Rockwell's "The Problem We All Live With," to mark the 50th Anniversary of Ruby Bridges's momentous walk to school, which marked the beginning of the racial integration of the William Frantz Public School in New Orleans on November 14, 1960.

Rockwell's painting was made for the cover of the January 14, 1964, issue of "Look" magazine. It's one of his most powerful, courageous, and ardent pictures.

The museum has agreed, of course, to the request. The painting will be on display at the White House until October 31.


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About the author

The Boston Globe Journalist Series: Sebastian Smee
Sebastian Smee is the Globe's art critic, winner of the 2011 Pulitzer Prize for criticism. He joined the paper's staff from Sydney, where he served as the national art critic for The Australian. He can be reached at Follow him on Twitter @SebastianSmee. Read Smee's full bio.

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