The Right to Know

The image above shows Norman Rockwell’s The Right to Know painted in 1968. (I got the original image from here.)

According to a Heritage Auctions webpage:

For the August 20, 1968 edition of Look, Rockwell designed a group portrait, The Right to Know (Private collection), as pointed commentary on the need for more government transparency in the midst of the unpopular Vietnam War. […] For the painting, Rockwell posed over thirty people representing the diversity of America — young, old, black, white, businessmen, students, hippies, and even himself smoking a pipe on the far right — in a panoramic frieze, standing, as if in a Senate hearing, before a broad desk and empty chair meant for a politician and/or the viewer. […] For The Right to Know, Rockwell based the portraits on individual photographs he had carefully taken over the course of three months. The colorful faces stare sternly at the politician-viewer, demanding attention and respect, and reinforcing the accompanying text:

“We are the governed, but we govern too. Assume our love of country, for it is only the simplest of self-love. Worry little about our strength, for we have our history to show for it. And because we are strong, there are others who have hope. But watch us more closely from now on, for those of us who stand here mean to watch those we put in the seats of power. And listen to us, you who lead, for we are listening harder for truth that you have not always offered us. Your voice must be ours, and ours speaks of cities that are not safe, and of wars we do not want, of poor in a land of plenty, and of a world that will not take the shape our arms would give it. We are not fierce, and the truth will not frighten us. Trust us, for we have given you our trust. We are the governed, remember, but we govern too” (Look, August 20, 1968, pp. 48-9).

Heritage Auctions is auctioning Norman Rockwell’s The Right to Know, Look magazine preliminary painted in 1968 (shown below). (I got the original image from here. Click on the images to see higher-resolution versions.)

Again, from the same Heritage Auctions webpage:

While most of the characters are the same in both paintings, Rockwell made several adjustments from the study to the finished version: for example, he removed the two children from the front row, repositioned various figures, and added himself behind the hippie girl. Most significant, Rockwell reoriented the collective gaze of the crowd, so that instead of glancing down in submission or defeat, they stare directly at the viewer in a confrontational manner, questioning the government’s actions.


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