Norman Rockwell's portraits of America are both a faithful historical record of, and a tender tribute to, American popular culture. "His subject was average America. He painted it with such benevolent affection for so many years that a truly remarkable history of our century has been compiled. Through wars, depression, civil strife, and the exploration of space, Norman Rockwell has drawn subjects from the everyday happenings of which most lives are made. Millions of people have been moved by his picture stories about pride in country, history, and heritage, about reverence, loyalty, and compassion. The virtues that he admires have been very popular, and because he illustrates them using familiar people in familiar settings with wonderful accuracy, he described the American Dream." (T.S. Buechner, Norman Rockwell: A Sixty Year Retrospective, New York, 1972, p. 13)
An Audience of One is no exception to this rule. Rockwell has used his wife and two young sons as models for the expectant holiday shoppers. Rockwell's two sons represent two opposite, yet classic reactions to the ritual of visiting Santa Claus at a bustling department store during the holiday season. One son eagerly stands in front of his mother in silent awe, while the other, not sure of what to expect, tentatively peeks out from behind the safety of his mother. The artist's perspective is that of an unseen observer. In one glimpse, the viewer gets a very close look at the family group, while getting a peripheral look at the other children who are waiting patiently, their hands clenched in anticipation. Rockwell has captured the children's high hopes and spirit of the event with the consummate skill that has made him America's most exalted and admired illustrator. This work could illustrate an episode at any of America's busy department stores. An Audience of One is a an incredibly touching and unique story of a department store Santa Claus who unites his family by unlikely twists of fate and inspiration.
American illustration holds a special place within the context of American art. Before television entered the American home, newspapers and magazines were the primary news sources for the nation. They were also the barometer of American opinion, and naturally, the artists who illustrated these periodicals had a great deal of influence on the perception of their nation. As the best of these artists, Norman Rockwell did more than fulfill his commissions. He understood his advantageous position, and put his best efforts into his work. He stated himself: "No man with a conscience can just bat out illustrations. He's got to put all of his talent, all of his feeling into them. If illustration is not considered art, then that is something that we have brought upon ourselves by not considering ourselves artists. I believe that we should say, 'I am not just an illustrator, I am an artist.' Today he is gone, but as they say, he is larger than life. His works are recognized worldwide and his name is used universally to describe a lifestyle and an era considered distinctly American... Norman Rockwell has become a star on our flag itself." (J. Goffman, The Great American Illustrators, New York, 1993, p. 122)