Examining three paintings with Thanksgiving themes (direct or not)

Norman Rockwell’s “Freedom From Want.”

1. Norman Rockwell’s 1943 painting, “Freedom From Want,” a visual ode to adequate standard of living and inspired by FDR’s “Four Freedoms” speech, is so closely aligned with the ideal Thanksgiving that many of us are convinced we’ve been at that very dinner table. In true Rockwellian goodness, a family smiles around a linen-covered table while a woman sets down an exceptionally large turkey to be carved by the table head. The message of this painting, featured as a cover of The Saturday Evening Post, was about financial security as a human right, an ideal just as ripe and divisive today as it was in post-depression America on the eve of World War II.

James Luna’s 1987 installation “The Artifact Piece."

2. No other American holiday evokes sentiment toward Native Americans like Thanksgiving, when we warmly pay homage to the idea of a peaceful unity between still-adapting pilgrims from Europe and the feathered natives of this country (though some consider the tradition an ongoing whitewashing of genocide). But while general society accepts that European Americans no longer wear the pilgrim garb, the idea of an Indian as a vestige of a past culture tends to dominate, particularly at museums. In James Luna’s 1987 installation “The Artifact Piece,” the artist questioned that tendency by posing on display as a contemporary Native American (with contemporary belongings), a member of current society, rather than an element of the past.

Edvard Munch's "The Scream."

3. Edvard Munch was a Norwegian artist who created “The Scream” long before the day after America’s Thanksgiving holiday had turned into a consumer hellscape, launching a collective nervous breakdown among millions celebrating the Christmas mania. But the artist’s depiction of love, angst and death in different renderings of “The Scream” made in the 1890s and early 1900s are really the only truly accurate (even if not intended as such) representations of the holiday insanity that begins itching under the skin before the dirty dishes and stuffing crumbs are cleared from the Thanksgiving dinner table.

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Kristen Peterson

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