530 – The Problem We All Live With/Race Riots

The Problem We All Live With/Race Riots

Norman Rockwell (1894-1978)
The Problem We All Live With 1964
Illustration for Look, January 14, 1964
Oil on canvas
Norman Rockwell Museum Collection

Audio commentary by Stephanie Plunkett, Deputy Director/Chief Curator of Norman Rockwell Museum and
Jesse Kowalski, Curator of Exhibitions of Norman Rockwell Museum

Speaker 1: Both Norman Rockwell and Andy Warhol ultimately created works that they felt spoke to some of the social challenges that America faced. I’m wondering if you could say a little bit about how Andy Warhol approached that subject?

Speaker 2: Sure. Warhol was very guarded about his personal beliefs and creating this persona. He wanted to generate a certain character that people would identify with. It was very odd for him to put out images like the Race Riot in this exhibit or the Electric Chair. The Birmingham race riots print in the show, is obviously a departure from Campbell’s Soup Cans and Marilyn Monroe paintings, which you know at the time Warhol felt very compelled to create a painting showing the racial problems in America. Norman Rockwell did the same thing with the problem we all live with, was a departure from his earlier works.

Speaker 1: That’s true. In fact, in earlier days Rockwell always felt that his personal opinion should not be evident in any of his paintings. For example, if he was painting a political candidate, his goal was always to paint people in their most flattering light, and this his personal viewpoint should not show through. However, when Rockwell ended his relationship with The Saturday Evening Post in 1963, he began to do work for Look magazine, which was a magazine of contemporary events. It was finally a time when he as an elder statesmen and a highly regarded and respected artist, could make statements that he felt would be meaningful, important and possibly even influential.

The problem we all live with, which was published in 1964 in Look magazine, really tells the story of a young girl who’s name was Ruby Bridges, who was the first to integrate a New Orleans public school in 1960. The painting was published on the 10th anniversary of the Brown versus Board of Education ruling of 1954, which stated that separate was not equal. Many states were lagging behind in instituting desegregation, so the painting is actually a reflection upon this important issue of school desegregation.