How do the words of Edward Hopper relate to dance? (Part 2)

Self Portrait (Hopper, 1925-30)

In my last post, What is Edward Hopper saying?, I began a 3-part series of entries exploring a quote by the late American visual artist, Edward Hopper. Here again is the quote of interest:

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.

In the previous post, I discussed the meaning of Hopper’s convictions against abstractionist art. Basically Hopper believed that it is not possible to create a “pure” painting. He felt that a piece of art could not be disconnected to one’s experience of life; and contrary to the intention of abstract works, the experience of living as a human in the world cannot be simplified to just form, color, and design. To Hopper, purely abstractionist, non-objective art, with a focus solely on the artistic form, is just not possible to create as human beings.

So how does this relate to the world of dance? I was especially intrigued by this quote when I heard it because I felt that his argument was significant beyond the realm of visual art. The ideas of “pure art” and art relating to life can certainly translate to many art forms, including dance. This is how I would apply Hopper’s opinions to the art of dance:

Hopper’s viewpoint when applied to dance

  • “Pure” dance is impossible.
  • The full experience of life cannot be simplified to just movement, music, costume, etc.
  • There is no such thing as a dance for dance sake.
  • A dance piece cannot be purely abstract, cannot only be about the technique.
  • A dance piece will always reflect in some way the world in which it was created.
  • An audience will always bring to a dance piece its own experiences of life.
  • It is impossible for a dance to exist on its own, disconnected from reality.
  • “Pure” dance, like “pure” art, is impossible because it is created by humans and viewed by humans, who are full, experiential, historical, and analytical beings.

Clearly Hopper’s strong opinion against abstractionist art can have controversial ramifications in dance as well. In my next post, I hope to wrap up the discussion by applying Hopper’s thoughts to various examples of dance. Can a “pure dance” actually be created?

Leave a comment


  1. Tori

     /  June 3, 2010

    So basically, pure dance can’t exist cause we are all humans? Intriguing…… do we count pure to be the same as perfect then? Perfection is really just a figment of imagination… and always changes with time. I thought I was perfect as a child….. clearly I may be the exception to this….

    But really looking back I wasn’t. Each decade, each president, and each person thinks they are doing the perfect thing, or why else would they do it? We look back to only find that mistakes were still made, and hopefully one is smart enough to learn from them and move on, not wallow in them and repeat them (AKA my piece Doomed to Repeat, which you so fantastically danced in!)

    So in Hopper’s meaning of “pure” dance, one must judge for oneself whether it is perfect to them. Hell, even science has “human error” to be accounted for.

    Can’t wait to read the next one where you compare!!!And if this was a lot of me blabbing i apologize, it is late for me. Also you should read The Celestine Prophecy… you may enjoy some of the thoughts in that book.

  2. Thanks for all of your thoughts, Tori! I don’t really see his idea of “pure” to be the same as perfection. I think his point is that pure, like “pure art,” is such because it is separate from actual experience. So the abstractionist painters wanted to make work that was just about the work and not concerned with meaning or relating to the life of the viewer. And I don’t think that necessarily means striving for perfection or flawlessness, just pure as in existing on its own.

  3. Thank you Meagan, you’ve got a good views. In my opinion “pure art” in his insight could be a perception that can only be experienced in an elevated nature of human beings as we are to a Spiritual-like-quality-state of ones that exist as if he is in the different realms other than matters and it is thus impossible to act, perform and execute in our infirmities to produce pure art! So in abstractions, painters dealt in that elevated state by submerging (himself with the medium he is using) to the state of non-existing-like as if he was dissolve from the physical universe to the unknown realms in this way “pure art” in human terms come to exists.


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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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