What is Edward Hopper saying? (Part 1)

Room in New York (Hopper, 1932)

Early Sunday Morning (Hopper, 1930)

Some of my favorite TV shows (as inscribed on my heart and my Facebook page) are random PBS specials. PBS is abundant with informational and artistic treasures, and every now and then (admittedly when nothing else is on) I get pulled in to one of their shows. Such was the case recently when I ended up watching a half-hour feature on the American artist, Edward Hopper.

As with every PBS experience I have, I learned so much in that half hour and came out of it with new appreciation and understanding. Produced by the National Gallery of Art, the piece served as an informative retrospective into the work of Hopper and his legacy in the field of visual art. Though the entire show was interesting, one particular quote from Hopper himself stood out to me. Because of its possible connections to the world of dance, I would like to share the quote and explore its significance in a series of posts. Without further ado, here is the quote of interest by Edward Hopper:

There is a school of painting called abstractionist or non-objective, which is derived largely from the work of Paul Cézanne, that attempts to create pure painting – that is an art which will use form, color, and design for their own sakes and independent of man’s experience of life and his association with nature. I do not believe such an aim can be achieved by a human being. Whether we wish it or not, we are all bound to the earth with our experience of life; and the reactions of the mind, heart, and eye and our sensations by no means consist entirely of form, color, and design.

For the first post and first step of exploration, I would like to dissect the primary meaning of Hopper’s words. Clearly, the first sentence explains the intention of abstractionist painting, in Hopper’s opinion. To him, Paul Cézanne and other abstractionist painters of the early 20th century aspired to create works that focus on form and exist solely as pieces of craft, not caring to connect with man and his experience of life. With a brief look into the work of Cézanne, I can understand Hopper’s point of view. Cézanne’s pieces (shown below) are basically portrayals of still images, which mostly serve as bases for him to further explore the technique of painting. It seems that he does not see any particular importance in the card players or the fruit; the focus is on his perspective and the way he paints.

The Card Players (Cézanne, 1890)

Still Life with Apples and a Pot of Primroses (Cézanne, 1890)

Hopper continues in the second half of the quote by expressing his contention with abstractionist art. He argues that disconnecting the painting from one’s experience of life is simply not possible. To him, the experience of living as a human in the world and its impact on one’s heart, mind, and senses cannot be simplified to just form, color, and design. And therefore, it is not possible to create a “pure painting,” devoid of emotion, expression, and other connections to human life.  Relating this opinion to the works of Cézanne, perhaps Hopper would insist that they are not simply non-objective displays of colors and shapes, even if that was  Cézanne’s intention. To Hopper, humans naturally bring to the paintings their life experiences (of people playing cards, apples, the color blue, etc.), so that complete abstraction is actually impossible.

I find Hopper’s thoughts to be very interesting as well as pertinent discussions for all art forms, not just visual art. For my next entry, part 2 of my Hopper exploration, I plan to consider how these ideas, of “pure” art and art connecting to life, relate particularly to the world of dance.

Extra Notes
  • For more info on Hopper, as well as 2 related quotes, check out this Hopper blog entry by Mark Vallen (a California visual artist worthy of attention)
  • To order a copy of the National Gallery of Art retrospective on Hopper (as seen on PBS), check out the online NGA order page
  • A special thank you to my father who helped record the PBS special


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  1. Non-review: Isadora Duncan shows us how it’s done « The Hidden Language of the Soul

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  • Meagan Bruskewicz

  • Dance is the hidden language of the soul.
    -Martha Graham

    One of my aims is to present questions rather than answers. -Paul Taylor

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