Artworks
Richard Nixon
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jcappetta's picture

Contributor

Like most dick pics, we all have mixed feelings about the subject of this portrait.

On one hand, tricky Dick was the guy that got us out of Vietnam. On the other hand he was behind secretly bombing Cambodia as an intimidation tactic and was a huge fan of secret meetings and abuses of presidential power as epitomized by the Watergate Scandal that prompted his resignation. Gerald Ford was noted as lamenting to his golf partners, “I know I will go to hell, because I pardoned Richard Nixon.” Hunter S Thompson put it succinctly when he said, “Nixon will be remembered as a smart man shitting in his own nest. But he also shit in our nests and...broke the heart of the American Dream."

It seems perplexing, then, that the Mr. Rogers of the art world would paint his portrait. I mean, Norman Rockwell was the commercial artist that used his popular appeal (at the expense of “artistic merit” as narrowly defined by Clement Greenberg) to help sway our socially conservative opinions. He showed us our best selves, delivering positive role models into the mailboxes of suburban America. He got famous illustrating for the conservative "Saturday Evening Post," where he worked within their policies to inject a bit of social consciousness into their readership. (They forced him to repaint people of color as white if they weren’t depicted in service or labor roles, shout out America.) Then he left the Post in 1963 for the more liberal "Look" and threw himself headlong into depicting the unfolding Civil Rights Movement, “This American Life” named an in-depth report on continuing segregation in American schools and the protests in Ferguson after one of Rockwell’s canvases. Meanwhile, Nixon was running on a platform that capitalized on White Southern voters’ anxieties about Black liberation.

Why did Rockwell paint this? "Look" magazine paid him for a portrait of the newly elected president—classic liberal politics, well-intentioned only as long as the status quo is upheld. The natural follow up question is why Rockwell made him look so good, like why did he paint the guy as anything less than the ugly, scary monster that Hunter S. Thompson paints in words. Nice guy Rockwell said he just didn’t want to upset his subject, being the president and all.

 

Sources

Sources

  1. Boyd, James. “Nixon’s Southern Strategy.” The New York Times, May 17, 1970. Accessed August 21, 2018. https://www.nytimes.com/1970/05/17/archives/nixons-southern-strategy-its...
  2. Freidel, Frank and Hugh Sidey. “Richard Nixon.” The Presidents of the United States of America. White House Historical Association: 2006. Accessed August 21, 2018. https://www.whitehouse.gov/about-the-white-house/presidents/richard-m-ni...
  3. Gotthardt, Alexxa. “Norman Rockwell Matters.” Artsy, June 1, 2018. Accessed August 21, 2018. https://www.artsy.net/article/artsy-editorial-norman-rockwell-matters
  4. Kaiser, Robert G. “The Disaster of Richard Nixon.” The New York Review of Books, April 21, 2016. Accessed August 21, 2018. https://www.nybooks.com/articles/2016/04/21/disaster-of-richard-nixon/
  5. Thompson, Hunter S. “He Was A Crook.” Rolling Stone, June 16 1994. Republished in The Atlantic, July 1994. Accessed August 21, 2018. https://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/1994/07/he-was-a-crook/308699/