Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Art and the Power of Myth

Although conventional credit is given to the holiday being first celebrated by the pilgrims at the site of Plymouth Plantation, in 1621, Governor William Bradford officially proclaimed Nov 29, 1624 a day of thanksgiving to be shared by all the colonists and the neighboring Native Americans to thank God for saving their lives and guiding them through their struggles through their journey on the Mayflower and during the following years of draught at Plymouth.





Later, In 1863 President Abraham Lincoln appointed a national day of thanksgiving. Now it is celebrated on the fourth Thursday of November in the United States and on the second Monday of October in Canada. Although “Thanksgiving” is often considered a decidedly American holiday, even Australia celebrates an official day of Thanksgiving in May. Details can be found at http://www.thanksgiving.org.au/


Norman Rockwell's illustration Freedom from Want appeared on the pages of The Saturday Evening Post on March 6, 1943 and was inspired by a speech given before the United States Congress on January 6, 1941 by President Franklin Delano Roosevelt during which the president enumerated four basic freedoms to which every person was entitled. In this illustration, by using familial images and a projection of prosperity, Rockwell tapped into archetypal concepts of comfort and hope that are culturally driven.

In an interview with Bill Moyers, Joseph Campbell, the late mythographer, stated that myths are “stories about the wisdom of life." He taught that they are life-nourishing and that we as individuals as well as a society have need of myth. Norman Rockwell used his personal family cook as the model for the elderly grandmother figure in Freedom From Want, and provided the nation more than a grandmother-figure to relate to during a particularly economically distressed period. Freedom From Want wasn’t originally issued as a Thanksgiving illustration, but as a message of hope for a nation hungry and fearful, a myth for a nation who experienced the deeper meaning of “man does not live by bread alone.” (Deuteronomy 8:3)


I find it interesting to note that people who think they are not influenced by art, have subliminally been socially shaped by art. For example, on Thanksgiving, countless Americans will strive to emulate the meals that Norman Rockwell presented on his illustration Freedom From Want. It is paradoxical that this struggle to put food on many an American dining room table is being done at the same time that the US government is considering providing more than $7.76 trillion to rescue the US financial system after guaranteeing $306 billion to Citigroup—which as much as half the value of everything produced in the nation last year.

Norman Rockwell ‘s Saturday Evening Post covers also provided representations of the feast day that captured various aspects of the American persona. I’ve included several of them on this blog, as many people aren’t familiar with the images.

The Thanksgiving feast also provided inspiration for other artists, including the illustrator Joseph Christian Leyendecker whose works often graced the cover of the Saturday Evening Post, Jean Leon Gerome Ferris, and Jeff Koon’s who designed a 53-foot-high balloon "sculpture" called "Rabbit" for the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade.

Traditional Thanksgiving representations can be found in many places, but it is harder to find artistic representations of the Macy’s Thanksgiving Parade, which is celebrating its 80th year of festivities. Joseph Delaney, a noted artist who was captivated by the energy and tradition of parades captured the balloons, floats, and excitement of the parade at Herald Square in his painting “Macy’s Parade” which was created between 1974-1984. The painting is now in the permanent collection of the Knoxville Museum of Art.














This Thanksgiving and in the days to follow as global finances have tanked, experts are forecasting that food prices will increase between 3-9% next year, homes are being foreclosed upon, companies are closing their doors and unemployment rolls are expanding, it's hard for many to rejoice. However, this is, indeed the ideal time to give thanks for all that we have---including cultural myths that feed our nation during times of dire need.

12 comments:

Dave King said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Dave King said...

Sorry about that - the fingers are not working properly yet, it is too early for them!
A very timely post in more ways than one, I'm thinking. I do believe that we are suffering greatly from having let much of the power (magic?) slip from our myths. Maybe you have not gone as far as we along that particular road.

Femin Susan said...

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Richard Reeve said...

It's an interesting secular holiday in that it embraces a spiritual value. I've often noted that it's a modern version of the great castle feast that get drawn in the tales of Arther, Gawain and the like. And then the sense that the gluttonous feast harkens back all the way into pre-history when this behavior was clearly a survival skill.

I think you hit the nail on the head with Rockwell's image the one our current table is modeled after. thanks for the interesting read.

S. A. Hart said...

Richard,

Thanks for your comment. I agree with you and suspect that Americans are collectively re-inventing/experiencing Ceridwen's cauldron. You may recall that Ceridwen was the goddess of poetic inspiration and the mother of Taliesin, as written about in the Mabinogi. It may have its roots in survival, but there may be other benefits from a society that taps into these archetypes.

helan said...

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Matthew S. Urdan said...

Awesome post with excellent Rockwell photographs! You really outdid me on this...far more informative than my post....nice job!

April said...

I really like the images you have on this post. Very neat.

NicoMc "the Illustrator" said...

I am a big fan of Norman Rockwell. I've been trying to draw in a style like his for a longtime. He is untouchable! I've been designing greeting cards trying to bring back the Norman Rockwell type of drawings. He's truly amazing

XanFactor said...

forgive me for my ignorance, i have always thought Thanks Giving is a Jewish tradition, coming from a Catholc Country--the Philippines--we don't celebrate Thanks Giving...

this is very informative...

:)

now i know...

Ingat po...

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Ron Russell said...

Rockwell managed to catch the spirit of America in days gone by---a spirit that is threatened by multi-culturalism and progressive politically incorrect idealists. The images are great I have many of the same in my photos.