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Is private life a fiction?

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When Deborah Solomon theorizes that Norman Rockwell was gay in her new bio “American Mirror: The Life and Art of Norman Rockwell,” you might ask if such a thing is worth noting? What does it matter who an artist likes to have relations with? Isn’t sex, like food and water, a basic human need that puts choice of sex partner on a par with favorite food and drink? What do such choices have to do with Rockwell’s art?

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Solomon allows that she can’t substantiate her assumption, unless you count her checking through Rockwell’s 322 covers for the Saturday Evening Post and her finding that most are of men and boys. Doesn’t her effort sound like she had a theory and went about trying to prove it?

But again, what difference does it make to the appeal of an artist’s work who he was intimate with? Renaissance artist Fra Filippo Lippi slept with a nun and painted religious subject with worshipful faces. And while Leonardo da Vinci enjoyed same sex relations, where in, say, his “Last Supper” or “Mona Lisa” does that show up?

Another question: is private life a fiction? I cringe at all the books of love letters published after couples’ passing. I’m thinking of Abigail Adams Love Letters (to John Adams) and James Joyce’s’ Love Letters to his Wife. Why should we be privy to anything in these marriages?

What drives us to this intrusion? Can it be the same one that drives the social media, like Facebook and Twitter, enabling us to call attention to our every state of mind?

This is fine if we’re talking about ourselves. But talking about others is the stuff of Rockwell’s painting “The Gossips.”

Deborah Solomon, please copy.


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