Chronicling America: The Art of Norman Rockwell, an exhibit at the North Carolina Museum of Art, features 40 original Rockwell illustrations and 323 Saturday Evening Post covers. The comments below are contrasting analytical readings of illustrations. For each comment, one of the readings is representational and the other oppositional. The representational readings focus on what meets the eye and the direct messages conveyed by the illustration, with attention to the time when the illustration was made and the intentions of Rockwell. The second analytical reading is intentionally oppositional--- focused on subtexts that are communicated through the illustration and a counter-analysis of the direct and indirect messages that emerge. Norman Rockwell's Family Tree 1959
Rockwell's style, particularly early in his career, invites oppositional readings. Rockwell often produced illustrations designed to reflect idealized social conditions. Of course, all ideals have antecedents in reality, so oppositional readings of idealized content could be as straightforward as a contrasting reality. Rockwell was often hemmed by the requirements of his employers who insisted that his illustrations conform to normative social expectations. These expectations were typically narrowly conceived, often sexists, and sometimes racists. For example, Rockwell's editors made him revise his illustrations of women to make them more attractive, as was the case with his illustrations of Jo from Louisa May Alcott's Little Women series.
The selection below from a Wikipedia article
on Rockwell's Four Freedom's,
provides some additional context.
"Rockwell is considered the "quintessential middlebrow American artist". As an artist he is an illustrator rather than a fine arts painter. Although his style is painterly, his work is produced for the purpose of mass reproduction, and it is produced with the intent of delivering a common message to its viewers via a detailed narrative style. Furthermore, the vast majority of Rockwell's work was viewed in reproduced format and almost none of his contemporaneous audience ever saw his original work. Also, Rockwell's style of backwoods New England small-town realism, known as regionalism, was sometimes viewed as out of step with the oncoming wave of abstract modern art. Some say his realism is so direct that he abstains from using artistic license. John Canaday, a New York Times art critic once referred to Rockwell as the "Rembrandt of Punkin' Crick" for his aversion to the vices of big city life. Dave Hickey derided Rockwell for painting without inflection. Some critics also view his sentimental and nostalgic vision out of step with the harsh realities of American life, such as The Great Depression.Some have summarized this combination by saying that Rockwell's Four Freedoms lack artistic maturity. Others point to the universality of the Freedom of Religion as disconcerting to practitioners of particular faiths. Others complained that he idealized American life because by depicting wholesome, healthy, and happy sentiments Rockwell depicted the good that was remembered or wished for, but by avoiding misery, poverty, and social unrest, he failed to demonstrate command of the bad and the ugly parts of American life. Rockwell's response to this criticism was, "I paint life as I would like it to be.""