When Norman Rockwell released ‘The Problem We All Live With’, it sent deep shock-waves throughout America.
Rockwell was known for his humorous, conservative and safe images of everyday American life for the Saturday Evening Post. He was incredibly popular and a cherished artist throughout the country.
In 1963 he left the Post to join Look magazine. In 1964 he made his greatest statement by painting this image – ‘The Problem We All Live With’.
The work depicts six year old Ruby Bridges, a real girl, on her way to school. She was one of the first black children to pass exams to allow her to go to an all-white school in New Orleans.
She’s escorted by four protective policemen. We can see the abuse she is suffering – racial slurs are written on the wall, including a reference to the Ku Klux Klan in the top left corner. She’s also narrowly missed being pelted with tomatoes.
Rockwell encourages us to empathise with Ruby.
He depicts the scene from her perspective. We are not looking down on her but looking across, from another child’s perspective. She stands tall and marches forward, textbook and ruler in her hand. Notice that she’s also dressed in white – a symbol of purity and innocence.
For an artist known for painting white middle-class American scenes – images of prosperity and puppy dogs – to paint this work, there must have been a problem. And the problem was racism.
This is one of the most iconic works to come out of the Civil Rights movement in America.
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