Print journalists and art critics have churned out reams of features and essays about the Smithsonian exhibition "Telling Stories: Norman Rockwell from the Collections of George Lucas and Steven Spielberg." But the TV coverage, especially on 'CBS Sunday Morning,' has paid more attention to the title, drawing direct connections between Rockwell and his two renowned collectors. All three are artists who've brought uncompromising craftsmanship and narrative prowess to mainstream forms like slick magazine illustration and pop moviemaking. Lucas said that "Shadow Artist" (above, 1920) reminds him that early movie artists too built illusions out of light, shadow, and physical objects. Spielberg said that he looks at "High Dive" (below, 1947) before he starts any new movie, because its young hero's high anxiety and fright mirror his own. But the painting also mirrors Spielberg's delight in dramatic perspectives and his knack for vividly externalizing childhood states of mind.

It's disappointing that at this late date the show would revive arguments about whether Rockwell's vision of America was too homespun-romantic and white-bread in its celebrations of patriotism and community. Last week, cleaning out a pile of magazines, I came across the September 2005 issue of Harper's -- and there was a Norman Rockwell painting on the cover, illustrating Jonathan Kozol's story "Still Separate, Still Unequal: America's Educational Apartheid." Rockwell depicts an African-American schoolgirl walking to school with two Deputy U.S. Marshals in front of her and two in back. They're passing a wall stained with the N word and the letters KKK and a smashed tomato that has slid down the wall to the sidewalk. Rockwell called this picture "The Problem We All Live With," and it originally appeared on the cover of Look in 1964. Even now, it's heart-stabbing in its potency. What must it have been like for Americans to see it on their newsstands or in their mailboxes 46 years ago?

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Have you been to the exhibition? What are your favorite Rockwell pictures? Which Lucas and Spielberg films do you think most eloquently convey his influence?

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