What I learned from a Norman Rockwell Painting

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By Terry Arzt

This is a painting called “High Dive” done by Norman Rockwell in the year 1947.  I saw this painting at a special exhibit at the Smithsonian American Art Museum.  This exhibit consisted of Rockwell oil paintings and drawings borrowed from the collections of Steven Spielberg and George Lucas.

Spielberg and Lucas are great collectors of Rockwell’s work. They said that Rockwell’s paintings tell a story, there is a cast, a plot and action in all of his work, the same elements that are in their work as movie makers.

Rockwell captured those universal truths about all of us that tell about who we are as humans.    

Rockwell doesn’t preach to you or challenge you to become something greater than you already are, he doesn’t motivate you to stretch yourself or to improve yourself. Rather he reflects back to you something that you already know.

When you look at a Rockwell painting you are stepping into another’s experience and you are doing so right in the middle of something.  You can see the characters and the motion and you can certainly identify with what is going on.

However, of all of the works in the entire exhibit, this is the painting that caught my attention.  No, more than that, it captivated me.  It is a painting of a boy at the top of a high dive, looking fearful, apprehensive and frightened.  He was too scared to move forward and too frightened to retreat.

We have all had many High Dive moments in our lives.  This is what is so wonderful about Norman Rockwell, he captures those moments, those emotions that we can all identify with.  

When I first saw this painting I thought Rockwell  should have named it, “The Moment of Decision” rather than “High Dive” because it depicted that moment that we have all been through. That moment that we decided to do something new, take on a challenge that we never did before or to stretch ourselves in ways that we never had before.

It depicted that moment of decision to go for it or not.

However, I soon realized that this painting does not depict the moment of decision because the boy already decided.  He is already at the edge of the high dive. He already climbed up there.  He walked to the end of the platform and he is looking down.

The decision was made – what was missing was ACTION.

So let me share with you some of my thought about taking action.

Taking action, moving forward at any moment of time takes a little bit of faith in ourselves and a great deal of courage.  Sometimes it just takes us a moment to move forward. Sometimes it takes many years to move forward. Sometimes we wait our entire lifetime and we never move forward; we just stay there at the edge of the board and never even attempt what could be.

I also concluded that deciding is the hard part.  Once the decision is made, the hard part is over with. Deciding to do something takes a great deal of thought and consideration.  Deciding to try something new takes enthusiasm and curiosity.  

Yet the boy looks like he can’t move and he is hanging onto the board for dear life.

He can slide off the end of the diving board, he can stand up and jump feet first or he can do a dive off the end of the board.

How he does it is up to him, but he needs to act.

What is missing is action.

So why don’t we take action?

Why we don’t act and what it does to us

  • We are fearful of the unknown.
  • We are overwhelmed and realize that the goal it is more of a challenge than we originally thought.
  • We are afraid of failing. We think we won’t do it right.
  • We second guess our decision and tell ourselves it wasn’t the right decision after all.

What taking action does for us

  • It makes our next attempt easier.
  • It teaches us more about ourselves. It teaches us about our situation.  We learn something.  We know what to do and what not to do the next time.
  • It gives us confidence.  When we stretch ourselves we have more confidence.  
  • It widens our belief boundaries as to what is possible.
  • It makes life more fun.


So what about you?  What action should you be taking right now that you have been putting off?  How long have you be just hanging on for dear life at the end of the diving board?

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