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Archive for December 14th, 2019

Put this one in the Even the great ones screw up every once in a while file.

This is a painting from Norman Rockwell titled People Reading Stock Exchange, a piece done in 1930 for one of his many Saturday Evening Post covers. There appears to be nothing unique about it at first glance, just a group of folks hunched around a wall chart that they all  find completely absorbing. They all seem perfectly normal until you take a closer look and notice that the young man in the red shirt seems different. You look a bit closer, maybe squint a little until you realize you don’t need to do that to see his abnormality.

Yes, he has three legs.

This strange young fellow apparently went unnoticed for a while and Rockwell himself didn’t recognize it until it was pointed out years later. It proved to be a embarrassing episode for him, especially given his reputation for capturing detail and realism in his work.

Some people have tried to explain it away as some sort of subconscious phallic representation which seems like a stretch to me. I think it was merely an oversight although an unusual one. As a casual viewer, it it something that is easy to overlook but I am more surprised that in the process of adding the finishing touches that it simply didn’t register for him that he was creating a most unusual young man.

As an artist, it’s reassuring, even comforting, to see someone so meticulous in his process make such an error.

Most artists have at least a handful of such things in their background, pieces with shadows that make no sense in nature or arms or necks that are much too long for any living human. Most go unnoticed. The unfortunate thing is that once they are identified, they become the focal point of that painting forever– something once seen that cannot be unseen.

I know that I have several paintings with mistakes, with departures from the laws of physics and other realities. These are pieces that, without these flaws being pointed out, are strong and full works. Few people, if any, notice these flaws but for me they are sometimes the first things my eyes rest upon in the picture. But they don’t bother me as I imagine this bothered Rockwell.

I see them as symbols of our humanity, our inherent flawed nature. We don’t need to point out our flaws. They’re there for all to see. We can only hope people accept us, three legs or two or one.

And the three-legged young man here is a refreshing reminder of Rockwell’s humanity.

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This post originally ran here back in 2013. It has proven to be one of the more popular posts through the years, often getting hundreds and sometimes thousands of views in a day. It is a favorite of mine, as well, simply for the reminder that we are imperfect beings. I certainly make no pretense of perfection in my own work. In fact, flaws are an inherent part of what I do. My signature, if you will.

Must be I subscribe to the words of Fred Astaire:

The higher up you go, the more mistakes you are allowed. Right at the top, if you make enough of them, it’s considered to be your style.”

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