The Four Freedoms Famously Portrayed by Norman Rockwell Are Under Assault

From Back When Our Own Government Wasn’t the Threat

Norman Rockwell’s “The Four Freedoms

Back in the Stone Ages of the early 1990s, when I finally settled on Painting as my major at Virginia Commonwealth University, I encountered a curious attitude among the art students.

I was trying to learn to paint realistically. After an initial mandatory assignment, I was the only one in my Basic Painting class who continued to paint from the model which was provided to us. It’s easy to make assumptions about why a single 20ish-year old guy would want to spend hours staring at a nude lady, but trust me, in art school, it’s not like that.

There’s nothing titillating about an 8am class crowded into a dirty, chilly studio with 20 other students, struggling to depict in oils an elbow or knee which looks like it bends the right way. A nude model is an intense technical challenge, one you can make conversation with at least, while learning how to paint.

But VCU prided itself on being a school for so-called advanced art, and most of the students embraced that mentality. Advanced in this case meant Abstract and/or Conceptual art. As in, lots of paint smearing and backwards writing were happening on the canvases around me. There was often a lengthy verbal explanation to go along with the crude efforts, words which seemed to have little to do with what was actually produced. The buzz word salad of art speak utilized in universities is a form of camouflage, like an ink cloud shot by a squid trying to avoid scrutiny.

I kept hearing from the other students a word applied to my efforts to paint a human figure: illustrational. In the Painting department, that was a bad thing. Illustration belonged over in the Commercial Arts department, the place for the sellouts who wanted to use their artistic skills to actually get jobs. In the fine arts, we were told, we were beyond trivialities like accurate representations, traditional techniques, and displays of competent craftsmanship.

I’ve written before on how, in college, I had to learn in opposition to the curriculum I was presented. VCU was a Postmodern school. In what was supposed to be one of the leading art universities in the country, they derided the ability to draw naturalistically as irrelevant. Actual artistic talent was redefined as a handicap.

We were educated in the Postmodern way: to follow trends, while claiming to be groundbreaking; to conform, while posing as a revolutionary; and to justify poor results by using linguistic manipulations. Ultimately, we were encouraged to jump onto a bandwagon of deceit which was being steered towards positions of power.

How wrong they were. At its core, art is a form of communication. The greatest art works offer something for everyone to appreciate. It’s an admirable way to present a vision of the world. Those who went along with the plot to make art into something elitist, obscure and alienating committed a great crime against humanity. This was no accident.

Empire follows art, as the visionary William Blake warned us. The ruin of art was needed to enable the Marxist destruction of Western civilization. The absurdity, abuse, and artifice I witnessed in art school decades ago is now standard operating procedure for our corrupted establishment. I never expected to see our country besieged by such a top-down effort to rule by intimidation, fraud, and misdirection, but here we are.

I don’t give the administrative classes the benefit of the doubt by calling them incompetent. This is willful, deliberate sabotage on their part.

The contrast between our current situation and our heritage is vividly demonstrated by a series of 1943 paintings by the king of illustrators: Norman Rockwell.

The Four Freedoms were drawn from a pre-WWII speech by President Franklin Delano Roosevelt-who was no real champion for American liberty. However, FDR knew how to make the correct noises to the masses. From Roosevelt’s perspective, the 1941 Four Freedoms State of the Union address may have been some patronizing spin, an escalation towards war, or even a bait and switch for socialistic globalism. There was no mention of them in the context of rights given by God, as acknowledged in America’s founding documents.

The four freedoms concept was ultimately and ironically worked into the charter of that great enabler of tyrants, the United Nations. But the sincere purity of the Four Freedoms at face value inspired Rockwell to paint some of his best known works.

The four freedoms described were freedom of speech, freedom of worship, freedom from want, and freedom from fear. Rockwell showed slices from American life at the time, where these freedoms were being exercised.  The series took him seven months to complete, using neighbors in Vermont as his models. The paintings were published as covers for the weekly Saturday Evening Post in February and March of 1943, and reproduced extensively in the war effort afterwards. Millions of copies of them have been made since.

The Four Freedoms were pictures worth more than a thousand words. While the images remain popular as mainstream American icons decades after the end of World War II, they had a special urgency at the time they were made. They served as a powerful reminder those freedoms were being threatened around the world by the aggressions of communism and fascism.

It could never happen here though, right?

How wrong we were to assume that.

After the end of WWII totalitarians Gramscied their way to seize control of our institutions, intent on stealth conquest. As a result, the Four Freedoms are now being destroyed by our own government at all levels, abetted by fellow travelers embedded in the media, academia, corporations, and the arts. These entities now view our freedoms merely as obstacles to their unaccountable power; they are working in lockstep to wipe out our legacy of liberty.

Those were the Days:

Norman Rockwell “Freedom of Speech” oil on canvas 45.75″ × 35.5″

Look at the man in Freedom of Speech. With his rough hands and flannel shirt, he’s a Deplorable incarnate; a cloth coat Republican, as a certain Vice President once described. Rockwell made a point to show how respectfully the suits around the working class guy are listening, in the midst of some kind of town hall situation.

No more of that for us. The Tea Party taught the pols to avoid engaging with their constituents in an actual open forum. The establishment doesn’t want to be called out on their lies, or to be held accountable for their BS. Now we can’t even speak our minds in the new town square of the internet. Corrupt politicians have outsourced censorship to the colluding forces of Big Tech.

The elites needed to smother the national pride, opportunities, and accomplishments which were surging after the election of 2016. So In 2020, along came the too-conveniently timed and coordinated Woo Hoo flu, a special delivery from the Country Which Must Not Be Named. The Overblown Outbreak was rapidly deployed as an excuse to strip us of our rights. Yet another form of stealth conquest; a major battle in the Invisible War.

Faith of Our Fathers:

Norman Rockwell “Freedom of Worship” oil on canvas 46″ × 35.5″

Freedom of Worship? Forget about it. You can’t go to church, per government proclamation. But you can still go to Walmart.

The Land of Plenty:

Norman Rockwell “Freedom from Want” oil on canvas 45.75″ × 35.5″

Freedom from Want? Nope. You must shutter your business because you are not Walmart. True, in 2020 having your livelihood ruined granted you more time to search empty store shelves for toilet paper and other necessities. I remember being not able to find salt, of all things.

The pretender puppet’s policies are only going to make things worse, so get prepared now.

Sweet Dreams:

Norman Rockwell “Freedom from Fear” 45.7″ × 35″

But this all hinges on freedom from fear. We needed to lose this freedom before all the other freedom losses would happen. Courageous people frighten the elites, so the message broadcast throughout our society now is all fear, all the time. Don’t question the authorities. Don’t speak out. Shelter in place. Mask. Inject yourself with this not-at-all-suspicious substance. Above all, obey – or else.

Even back in the day, the elite establishment sneered at an artist who could connect with the  deplorable masses.  “…you have to put Rockwell down, down below the rank of minor artist. He chose not to be serious,” proclaimed Clement Greenberg, the most influential critic of the mid-twentieth century. A Marxist admirer of the Frankfurt School, Greenberg defined Rockwell and the Americans who appreciated him as Kitsch: dumb, cheap, and tasteless. Elite attitudes have only gotten worse since then.

But when I look at these images, I feel a stirring which is deeper than propaganda. They move me as only real art can. I believe in the messages of stability, concord, abundance, and faith The Four Freedoms celebrates. They inspire me to want to live up to those ideals. That inspiration becomes a call to action.

That’s why the establishment was wise to go scorched earth on the arts before they rolled out their more pragmatic forms of tyranny. Art is dangerous to the status quo – especially when that status quo is based on delusions and deceptions. Art reminds us we can do better.

In articles leading up to the Big Lie, I used to talk about an impending extinction level event for our republic. Well, here we are on the other side of it. A republic without law is not a republic at all. But we citizens are still here, and we know what was done, and why. Now what?

First, we free ourselves from fear. Nothing else can happen until that does.

The world needs more artists who cherish freedom, and are not afraid to show it. Seeing the four freedoms in action in art could inspire countless others to embody the same freedoms in their own lives.

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RICHARD BLEDSOE is a visual story teller; a painter of fables and parables. He received his BFA in Painting from Virginia Commonwealth University. Richard has been an exhibiting artist for over 25 years, in both the United States and internationally. He lives and paints happily in Phoenix, Arizona, with his wife Michele and cat Motorhead. He is the author of Remodern America: How the Renewal of the Arts Will Change the Course of Western Civilization.

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My wife Michele Bledsoe has written her own inspirational book, Painting, Passion and the Art of Life.

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Visit other posts for more commentary on the state of the arts.

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37 thoughts on “The Four Freedoms Famously Portrayed by Norman Rockwell Are Under Assault

  1. Rockwell is one of the two artists of that era that I expect will withstand the test of time, of whom future folk will express amazement that they were underappreciated back in the day.

  2. I followed the same route. Two years of community college learning commercial art and then transferring to a four year college with an art major. Total waste of time. They had me painting garbage and literally creating “art” from garbage. Dropped out and then I decided would concentrate on my love of typography and spent a long and satisfying career creating publications, and that is something useful and satisfying.

  3. Amen brother. Spent 50 years as a professional in the performing arts. My teachers would simply not believe some of the stuff trying to pass for art now.
    Art must speak the language of its audience. (Rap/hip hop may be art, but it is not music). If the average person does not understand the artist, it is a failure of the artist not of the person. In the performing arts, the audience speaks to the creators in several ways. Applause and booing are obvious, but the potential audience may fold up their wallet and just not go. Abstract “art” is just idiocy from the get go, impossible for anyone other than the artist to understand in a meaningful way. Much modern music is in the same boat, atonal crap that lacks melody, harmony or rhythm. Sounds like a cow with intestinal trouble.

  4. What an amazingly great article! I have long been a fan of Rockwell and I had a similar experience to the author when I was in high school in the 70s. I was invited to take part in a summer arts workshop at a state college. When I presented my portfolio of drawings and paintings to the professor interviewing me, he asked who my favorite artist was. I replied “Norman Rockwell” and the look of sheer contempt on his face surprised me, as he replied “Oh, he’s an illustrator. At the time, I was too young, and perhaps naive, to understand the full implication of his attitude, but deep down, I was angry at his reaction without knowing why. Not surprisingly, I wasn’t chosen to participate. But I also knew that what I wanted was to work as a commercial artist, or its more popular name of graphic design, and I’ve done that relatively successfully. The “artists”
    I knew who concentrated on abstract art never made it out of the gate.

  5. Had a very similar experience at the Hartford Art School, part of the University of Hartford, back in the mid-late ’70s. Its strength was Conceptual Art, one I struggled to understand. I left after three years of trying to ‘fit in’ but eventually left and simply went to work for the next 40+ years. Found furniture making about 10 years ago and that filled all the voids left by the ‘art world.’ Real materials, real design, reality made whole.

    Great article, thanks.

  6. I love Rockwell for how skilled he was in capturing a story within a single frame. So much told in the details, it is inspiring.

    Did you see where they “remade” his pieces a few years back?

    I think what angers me is not the remaking, it’s that they didn’t tell new stories. Sure, include more minorities and stuff, expand the Tableau of America, but don’t just do a palette swap of a great man’s art. Create your own art and stories! Add to the great book of American culture, don’t just replace pages.

  7. @natewinchester

    And the thing is, Rockwell did not shy away from portraying social issues in his paintings, particularly in the late 50s/early 60s. The painting he did of the young black elementary school girl being walked to school flanked by four FBI-looking agents, with racial epithets scrawled on the wall behind them and another of a black family moving into a Levittown-type suburb and their children meeting the white neighborhood children on the sidewalk are the two I remember most. I’m sure there are others.

    In a biography of Rockwell that I read years ago, I was amazed at the attention he paid to authentic detail in his paintings, and that was when he used live models and props. And as I recall from that book, he caught a lot of grief for gradually switching to photography to record scenes that he was to paint, but he said that it enabled him to paint faster and compose better.

  8. @Richard Bledsoe
    I’m glad you found a real and satisfying way to use your skills and creativity.

    Thank you! The last thing I wanted to do was to paint, as in an object on canvas hanging on a gallery wall. I had to explain that to my guidance counselors in high school, who all thought I was going to starve if I pursued that particular path. This was the mid-70s, and even in my small town, I knew there were such things as advertising agencies, print houses, magazines and newspapers, and art studios, and that was the path I took.

    I suppose the only difference is that when I tell people I am a graphic designer now, they actually know what it is. 🙂

  9. @Richard Bledsoe

    I’m sure you’ve read Tom Wolfe’s book “The Painted Word,” haven’t you? I love the way he just skewers to death the pretenses of postmodern art, their extreme snobbishness and lack of conventional art skills. I remember how it enraged the elite art crowd, which meant that it was an enormous success.

  10. @Richard Bledsoe

    http://illustrationart.blogspot.com/

    This blog has been a long-time favorite of mine and David Apatoff has the same view as you do regarding the conflict between the elitist modern art crowd vs. the so-called “lowbrow” commercial art practitioners (i.e. ad artists, cartoonists, pulp fiction cover artists, etc.). His blog is a celebration of all those commercial artists who did brilliant work but whose names never appeared on them.

    I think I read it on this blog, but I remember reading something to the effect that what was a better method for a person’s art to be seen? A gallery or museum where few, if any, people saw their work, or an illustration of a story inside Good Housekeeping or the Saturday Evening Post that found its way into millions of homes?

    My hands-down favorite comic as a kid was MAD Magazine, who had some of the most brilliant and varied artists anywhere, and who still to this day are unmatched for their creativity and technical skill.

  11. That is a great site, thanks for sharing! Much to explore. I want to eliminate the distinction between “high” and “low art” art-especially when the “high” is now nothing but rubbish and propaganda, and not really art at all.

  12. @Richard Bledsoe
    You are quite welcome!

    I agree. The so-called exhibit of a couple years ago of the banana duct taped to the gallery wall seemed to me to be a pathetic gesture of I don’t know what. It had its fifteen minutes (if that) of fame and slid into irrelevancy. It comes as no surprise to me that many people post their drawings, paintings, calligraphy, videos, animations, photography, etc. on social media or dedicated art sites and that much of it is in a traditional art vein. It is all very inspiring and creative and seems to be a rejection of the postmodernist elitist ethos.

    I believe there is a link, or used to be, on David Apatoff’s blog of an online art school that taught in the traditional method of the Masters. They, too, wanted to counter the ugliness and nihilism of postmodern so-called art and weren’t shy about saying so. Art Resource Center was what it was called, I believe. Haven’t checked to see if it is still around, though.

  13. @Richard Bledsoe

    Indeed they do. To me, that is why there is an explosion of ordinary people making real, true, representational art for themselves and their friends. There are millions of blogs, websites and YouTube videos for anyone who wants to learn traditional drawing and painting skills and it is no accident that some are very popular. I believe there is a hunger for meaningful creative expression and the average person doesn’t get that by taping bananas to walls.

    And as for the banana guy … his outlook is just so tiresome. He reminds me of the “performance” at this year’s Grammy Awards: intentionally over the top and deliberately provocative but ultimately totally pathetic and unworthy of even 16 minutes of fame. He will no doubt concoct even more desperately ugly works to dwindling returns until no one pays him any attention, and at which point, he will implode.

    My mistake: it is the Art Renewal Center – https://www.artrenewal.org/. For some reason, I remember the acronym, but can’t recall what the initials stand for.

  14. Postmodern art is a tool of oppression, made to undermine us. How to we fight back? By creating an uplifting alternative. That is what is happening out there among the people. Exciting times! The ARC is a great example of how to do it.

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