- To help students understand and interpret artists’ at-the-time renderings.
Learn to understand symbolism, color choices and perspective when looking beyond the obvious in popular paintings, such as the Norman Rockwell rendering used in this lesson.
- UCLA Department of History, National Center for History in the Schools, Historical Analysis and Interpretation, Historical Thinking Standard 3: Students engage in historical analysis and interpretation.
- Norman Rockwell painting, reflecting on the divisive nature of the 1948 Presidential Election, which
appeared on the front cover of the Saturday Evening Post on October 30, 1948. Widely available on
various sites, such as 9481030.jpg (500×665) (saturdayeveningpost.com)
- After an in-depth discussion of the 1948 Presidential Election, the instructor with provide a brief description of Norman Rockwell, explaining that most of his paintings reflected scenes, situations and events from everyday life, and that like all painters, he employed symbolism, colors and perspectives to enhance—if not expand—the message conveyed by the painting.
- The instructor will then show students Rockwell’s painting concerning the divisive nature of the 1948 Presidential Election, and an in-depth discussion will follow, focusing on the not-so-obvious aspects of the painting and how they factor into the interpretation of the painting.
- After identifying the obvious—the man supports Dewey and the woman favors Truman—the instructor will guide the ensuing discussion by asking pointed questions and—when necessary—providing background information.
- How old do you think this couple, presumably husband and wife, are? (Perhaps early to mid-20s)
- Why do you think Rockwell portrayed them as quite young? Would an older couple have been as likely to have this heated disagreement? (Probably not. Since the voting age in the United States at this time was 21, could this have been the couple’s first Presidential Election of their married life? (Probably)
- Why do you suppose Rockwell portrayed the man as attempting to be dominant/aggressive and the woman as being more passive? (Do these portrayals reflect the historic and popularly perceived dynamics of men and women in a married relationship at the time of the painting? Probably.)
- What might tell you that this couple if fairly affluent? (Two different daily newspapers.)
- What, in the way Rockwell portrayed the man, would suggest why he supports Dewey? (Appears to be a businessman, dressed in a suit and tie)
- Why did Rockwell indicate bright sunshine coming in through the window? (Is the disagreement “coming to light?”)
- Why did Rockwell include a cat, dog and canary? (Are these two people “political” animals?)