Norman Rockwell, The Problem We All Live With

Many critics dismiss Rockwell’s paintings as sentimental fluff — works whose narrative subjects are not the stuff of Real Art. It is true that many of Rockwell-s best known works belong to the tradition of Flemish still life painting: scenes from ordinary incidents in the lives of ordinary people. But there were occasions, such as the one represented on this page, that reveal Rockwell’s ability to give us a powerful image of an important event in American history.

The Problem We All Live With shows us a real girl, Ruby Bridges, on her way to a segregated school in New Orleans. Her journey, on November 14, 1960, represented the national government’s determination to end racial segregation in public schools, transportation, and all those phases of American life where African-Americans so so often, and for so long, suffered from racial discrimination. The United States marshals accompanying the girl are seen marching in order past smashed tomatoes and racist graffiti. The viewpoint in the picture is that of the angry crowd, who see only the legs of the marshals but the whole body of the little girl on her way to the now-integrated school.

(Click the image for a lightbox view)

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Ruby Bridges, November 14, 1960, walking to the William Frantz Elementary School in New Orleans

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