Happy Thanksgiving!

Alyssa Dumire, Director of Children’s Education

Happy Thanksgiving! I hope you’re enjoying the long weekend surrounded by family, friends, and mountains of mashed potatoes and stuffing. Here in the FWMoA Children’s Education department, the holiday season reminds us of the fast approaching Scholastic Art & Writing Awards.

In the spirit of both seasons, we’re sharing this Scholastic-Awarded work from last year, a painting entitled Dog Eat Dog World by Ben Henschen.

A play on Norman Rockwell, this version shows the family as dogs serving another dog's head.
Ben Henschen, age 17. Dog Eat Dog World. Painting, 2019. Concordia Lutheran High School.

Does it look familiar? Hopefully the scene depicted doesn’t remind you of your own Thanksgiving table, but it was inspired by Norman Rockwell’s iconic Freedom from Want, pictured below.

Norman Rockwell's painting shows a table laden with food and family, as the grandma sets the turkey down and the grandpa stands behind her.
Norman Rockwell, American, 1894-1978. Freedom from Want. Oil on canvas, 1943. Public Domain.

Freedom from Want was part of Rockwell’s Four Freedoms series, created in response to a 1941 address to Congress by President Franklin Roosevelt. In an effort to stoke enthusiasm for American involvement in World War II, Roosevelt outlined four freedoms that were at stake: Freedom of Speech, Freedom of Worship, Freedom from Fear, and Freedom from Want. When the response from Congress and the public at large was not as intended, Roosevelt’s administration turned to writers to help create some buzz, but those efforts too fell flat. Rockwell proposed his series of paintings to officials in Washington, D.C. a year later, but they’d already given up by then. So, he turned to the Saturday Evening Post where he was already the star cover artist and they published the paintings in four issues in 1943. They were, of course, a hit; and the previously abstract notion of Roosevelt’s Four Freedoms finally “clicked.” The bountiful Thanksgiving dinner (look at the size of that turkey!) on sparkling china surrounded by smiling faces that could easily be one’s own family embodied Freedom from Want in an easily-digestible and idealized package.

Rockwell’s work, especially Freedom from Want, has become more well-known than the speech it references and is endlessly reinterpreted and updated by other artists, bringing us back to today’s featured work. All art and writing entered in the Scholastic Awards is adjudicated according to three criteria: technical skill, personal vision or voice, and, last but certainly not least, originality. But, you may be wondering, is it original if it draws from an existing work? In this case, while Dog Eat Dog World was clearly inspired by that iconic painting, the changes made by the artist convey a totally different message—a message made more effective because it references a familiar work, not in spite of it. Master studies, or even copies, are important ways for artists to learn and hone their craft but these, no matter how technically adept, don’t have a place in the Scholastic Awards. Students are welcome to submit work inspired by an existing piece, but they must bring a fresh, unique perspective or contemporary interpretation as Ben Henschen did.

So, this Thanksgiving, we’re thankful that we’ll soon get to see and share this year’s crop of original, inspiring teen art and writing work. In fifty years or so, maybe they’ll be the “masters” being studied and reinterpreted!

The deadline for submitting work to the 2020 Scholastic Art & Writing Awards of Northeast Indiana and Northwest Ohio is January 7, 2020.

View the awarded works on display at FWMoA from February 8, 2020-April 11, 2020!

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