We start our Black History Month art series with a look at Norman Rockwell’s painting, The Problem We All Live With. I’ve heard it said that Norman Rockwell was safe because he strayed away from depicting any direct social commentary in his work — then what were all those paintings of ‘Life Americana’ that I remember growing up seeing in my mom’s art books supposed to be saying to me?
How could you ignore his painting of a six-year-old Ruby Bridges being escorted to school amidst the chaos of protestors that didn’t agree with the United States Supreme Court Brown v. Board of Education? That unpopular ruling that declared the state laws establishing separate public schools for black and white students were unconstitutional could not be more frankly expressed in this emotional tribute to courage.
In 1963, Rockwell confronted the issue of prejudice head-on with one of his most powerful paintings. At the time editorial policies governed the placement of minorities in his illustrations (restricting them to service industry positions only). The painting was a clear indicator that Rockwell was supporting equality and tolerance.
*“The Problem We All Live With,” Norman Rockwell, 1963 Oil on canvas, 36” x 58” Illustration for “Look,” January 14, 1964 Licensed by Norman Rockwell Licensing, Niles, IL. From the permanent collection of Norman Rockwell Museum*
Learn more about that landmark United States Supreme Court case at PBS/The Supreme Court — Expanding Civil Rights.