An epic month-long re-organization of my files unearthed several unpublished posts from ancient times…like this one from February 2005
Berkshire Weekend, Stockbridge, MA
Clemens Kalischer and Norman Rockwell: Two creators, poles apart
How does an artist find art and present it? Two creators, one a renowned photographer, the other a celebrated artist, couldn’t be farther apart in their views. Both men were driven use their art to tell stories, both strove to say something about the human condition. In a recent trip to Stockbridge, MA, pt at large visited the studio of Clemens Kalischer and the Norman Rockwell Museum (then located on Main Street, a short walk from Kalischer's Image Gallery) and was struck by the conceptual gulf between these men.
In my youthful roamings through Stockbridge, I had often admired the black and white photographs of Clemens Kalischer, not realizing that the man had contributed to Edward Steichen’s acclaimed “The Family of Man” in 1955 and had photographed for Time, Life, and Fortune magazines, and was a freelance photographer for the New York Times. In a recent trip to Stockbridge, The Adventurer, not having the prose to put this politely, was surprised that Kalischer was not only alive (at 85) but sitting behind the desk in the same gallery he’s maintained for nearly half a century. And talkative. Sort of.
The burning question one wants to ask an artist is "Why do you make these pictures, what do you want to tell us?" I asked him but Kalischer just doesn’t want to play Q and A.
Q. “What did you want to convey with this photo?”
A. “I find a subject that appeals to me and I take a picture.”
Q. “Well, are you aiming to make a comment on poverty, or war, or a vanishing way of life?”
A. “That’s up to the viewer to answer,” he replies. “I don’t want to tell the viewer what to think. If I were to write titles to my photos, I’d be leading the viewer to make conclusions. I want viewers to make their own conclusions.”
I tried asking the question in several other clever ways and still the same response. “When I feel moved to take a picture, I frame it and shoot it. It’s up to others to judge it.”
He certainly had a feel for it, even though he wouldn’t wax poetic about it. His visions of people, places, and history resonated universally; his work is included in the Library of Congress’ “Masters of Photographers” collection.
Norman Rockwell, on the other hand, wanted the public to understand his art and did everything he could to align our perceptions with his. The Adventurer’s visit to the Norman Rockwell Museum, built in Stockbridge in 1993, revealed an artist who had no trouble taking control of his art and the message he delivered from the 1920s to the 1960s. His illustrations were a fixture on covers of Look, The Saturday Evening Post, and Time Magazines.
“I do ordinary people in everyday situations . . . And I find that I can fit most anything into that frame, even fairly big ideas.” Themes of kindness, tolerance, democracy, and freedom recur in his paintings, which are often awash in gentle humor, compassion, or admiration. Many of his images, The Four Freedoms, for example, are iconic visions of mid twentieth century America.
A man of social conscience, Rockwell didn't shy away from using his art to comment on the war in Viet Nam or the bloody violence in the South where young members of SNCC were murdered, martyred in the Civil Rights movement of the early 1960s. Rockwell prepared for his paintings meticulously. He chose the models, selected the clothes, coached the expressions, thought out the backgrounds of each painting. He photographed the scene then painted it and repainted it until that everyday situation represented something about his view of the American psyche.
There you have it: two artists, one who telegraphs his intentions without pretense, one who sends it untitled into the world. Both had a passion for creating, commenting, and connecting with the world. Both are acknowledged for their art.
Does it matter how we create our art? We each have a palette with which we shape our worlds and create our futures. Some of us are the Rockwell designers, thinking ahead, planning methodically, and transparently communicating our visions. Some of us are Kalischers, seeing opportunities, taking our shots, and letting others find the value in what we do. Either way, pt at large admires those who fill their frames with ideas that matter to them.