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The strategies in this unit will encourage the youngsters to use various skills for learning. Each student will have the opportunity to read, to critically examine slides and lithographs of selected Hopper creations, to fully participate in teacherled discussions of these works of art, and to participate first hand as a commercial artist—i.e. they will be afforded an opportunity to go out into their community, traveling on foot or by car (as Edward Hopper did on countless occasions), to photograph or to sketch buildings, scenes, or structures similar to commonplace areas that Hopper painted himself. In this way, we hope to create a sense of the challenge facing every artist as they themselves seek to create their own masterpieces. Hopper was able “to portray the commonplace and make the ordinary poetic.”1 We hope our students will be able to understand these skills and to become familiar with the decisions, the inconveniences, and the obstacles of every artist as they ply their trade.
My preliminary work has involved several projects, among them visits to regional and local art galleries to photograph and/or to purchase prints for classroom discussions, correspondence to the Chamber of Commerce and to the town historians of Nyack, New York (Hopper’s birthplace) and Truro, Massachusetts (his summer home), and letters requesting background information from the Smithsonian Institute in Washington, D.C. and the Phillip Morris Agency in New York City, both of which sponsored Edward Hopper exhibitions.
The unit will be taught during a timeframe of approximately twelve weeks. The format will involve 10 preselected Hopper prints, each of which will be discussed and analyzed on a weekly basis. The first week will act as an introduction to Hopper and the final week will culminate with our photographic expeditions.
To gain a pictorial sense of America’s cities, towns, seasides, and western plains during the early years of the 20th century.
To examine the technological improvements in America as we comcare and contrast today’s cities and towns and those of Edward Hopper’s era.
To foster an artistic appreciation and a sense of the monumental size of each project as the artist goes about his daily tasks.
To familiarize students with the nomenclature, the style, and the subtle techniques employed by the artist to deliver messages of underlying meaning.
To utilize (10) prints of Edward Hopper which span the fifty plus years of his work as separate but unified chapters of a narrative exposition.
Having grown up close to the Hudson River, Hopper appears to have a close affinity to water. Many of his works involve seascapes, lighthouses, nautical scenes, harbors, rivers, bridges, and even a view of Cape Cod Bay. “Hopper was always drawn to water, which may have symbolized freedom and escape for this reclusive artist.”2 His choice of subjects provides an important clue to Hopper’s vision. The places and scenes that Hopper painted reveal much about his personality, his tastes, and the cultural climate of his time.
As Hopper was growing up in Nyack, New York in his teen years, Stephen Crane was busily writing narrative, journalistic reports about ordinary people and places down the road apiece. Crane was considered a realist, a naturalist, and a symbolist in many ways comparative to Hopper. Crane, in trying to explain his writings, suggests: “The true artist is the man who leaves pictures of his own time as they appear to him.”3 It is to this end that I believe that Hopper, as well as Crane, were true artists in every sense of the word.
Hopper’s choices of subject matter seem to be somewhat unpredictable but for the most part represented the city, the town, the water, and the countryside. Hopper concentrated on the myriad of pictorial possibilities within our large cities. He painted unique, unusual subjects in art such as hotel lobbies, apartments, offices and restaurants. He utilized empty evocative settings to project various moods. Through these moods, he revealed a variety of emotions and interpersonal relationships. His solitary figures often were central characters caught in contemplative, dreamlike circumstances. But there are no crowds in Hopper’s cities. The occasional figures are parts of the whole scene but not leading actors.
The small town represented another portrayal of the United States. The village buildings and boatfilled harbors were painted for their fascinating forms. In particular, Hopper loved the seaside towns of New England, especially Cape Cod. He and his wife Josephine spent many summers in Truro; subsequently many of his nautical paintings are of lighthouses, harbors, boats, and water. Since his boyhood days, he had been attracted to everything connected with boats and water. At the age of fifteen, he had built his own sailboat and sailed on the Hudson River at Nyack, New York. Although later in life, he readily admitted that sailing and the building of sailboats was not his forte.
As for the countryside, Hopper loved to travel. His American landscape paintings broke with tradition immediately. As he traveled throughout New England, the South, the far West, and Mexico, he painted the highways, gas stations, motels, railroad depots with their buildings and train crossings, and various forms of quaint architecture. Often the horizontal line of a road or railroad tracks formed a border or base for his drama that was beginning to unfold.
Choosing the proportions for a painting was a matter of great concern for Hopper. The very long horizontal shape of Manhattan Bridge Loop was an effort to produce a sensation of extending the scene beyond the borders while dwarfing the pedestrian may have been an attempt to suggest the overpowering affect that major cities have upon their inhabitants.
The dramatic play of light and shadow played an impressive role in many of his compositions. Light and shadows are sharply defined and strongly contrasted. Light was an active force by streaming into a scene, falling on forms and modeling them, and acting as a dynamic element in the whole pictorial concept.
In his usage of light, Hopper was unrestrained. Often, the mood of the painting or the hour or the season or the weather was determined by lighting conditions. There is an incredible sensation produced by the intensity of the painted sunlight falling on the white walls of his Lighthouse at Two Lights and there’s an eerie feeling of night as the fluorescent lighting of the diner creates sharpangled shadows against neighboring buildings in Nighthawks. But the light is never literal; it is perhaps the most powerful tool of Hopper’s expressive compositional techniques.
A device which Hopper has used ever since his Paris days is the bold, foreground horizontal such as a sidewalk, a wall, the railing of a bridge, or a railroad track. They are like the edge of a stage beyond which the drama begins.
On occasion, Hopper would freely alter what he observed. He would subtly change the spatial organization of a composition to one that better suited his purpose. By cropping the house in Rooms For Tourists. he ensures that the viewer’s eye receives the inviting message of the availability of warm hospitality.
Multiple points of view were selected intentionally to increase the sensation of realism. In Cape Cod Evening, we see the home from the left side creating a frontal affect for the collie that is parallel to the viewer plane. In Mansard Roof, the viewer is located below the subject while in Night Shadows, an elevated position has been chosen. Hopper sometimes chose to compress space, making the foreground distances disappear, as he did in Davis House.
Hopper’s idea of casting the spectator as a witness is evident in Office at Night as the viewer observes the sexual tension and the drama created by this encounter. Throughout his long career, Hopper was primarily interested in mood and human interaction. Many critics have claimed that Hopper only painted what he saw, yet his writer believes that there was much more than what initially engaged the eye. For Hopper, painting was an intensely private experience. “So much of every art is an expression of the subconscious that it seems to me most of the important qualities are put there unconsciously, and little of importance by the conscious intellect. But these are things for the psychologist to untangle.”7
1. The ten preselected prints of Hopper’s works will be employed on an individual weekly basis primarily as a teacherled classroom discussion. If available, slides will also be used to highlight style or compositional techniques (10 weeks). 2. An introductory slide show will acquaint the student with Edward Hopper and a sampling of his works. 3. A tour of the Yale Art Gallery will provide each student with a firsthanded observation of three of Hopper’s major works: Rooms by the Sea, 1951; Western Motel, 1957; and Sunlight in a Cafeteria, 1958. 4. A photographic expedition of the student’s community to allow each student to photograph similar ordinary and commonplace buildings or sites that are closely related to Hopper’s compositional topics. 5. A journal writing assignment which permits each student to record the occurrences, the obstacles, and the preparations before, during and after the photographic experience. 6. Background reading selections which will discuss Hopper’s thematic approaches, his subject matter, and his stylistic techniques. 7. Within the context of each weekly print, each student will write a comparison/contrast essay citing the technological improvements/differences as reflected within Hopper’s works and their contemporary times.
- 1. Levin, Gail. Hopper’s Place,. (New York: Knopf, 1985).
- 2. Ibid.
- 3. Katz, Joseph. The Portable Stephen Crane, (New York: Penguin Books, Inc., 1969) p. IX.
- 4. Goodrich, Lloyd. Edward Hopper, (New York: Whitney Museum of American Art, 1971) p. 8.
- 5. Hobbs, Robert. Edward Hopper, (New York: Harry N. Abrams, Inc., 1987) preface.
- 6. Ibid., pp. 625.
- 7. Goodrich, Lloyd. Ibid., p. 164.
8. Barr, Alfred. Edward Hopper: Retrospective Exhibition, (New York: Museum of Modern Art, 1933), p. 15.
DuBois, Guy Pene. Edward Hopper (New York: Whitney Museum of American Art, 1931).
Goodrich, Lloyd. Edward Hopper (New York: Whitney Museum of American Art, 1964).
Goodrich, Lloyd. Edward Hopper (New York: Whitney Museum of American Art, 1971).
Hobbs, Robert. Edward Hopper (New York: Harry N. Abrams, Inc., 1987).
Katz, Joseph. The Portable Stephen Crane (New York: Penguin Books, Inc., 1969).
Levin, Gail. Edward Hopper (New York: Crown Publishers, Inc., 1984).
Levin, Gail. Hopper’s Places (New York: Knopf, 1985).
Levin, Gail. Edward Hopper: The Art and the Artist (New York, London: W.W. Norton and Co., 1986).
Schjeldahl, Peter. Edward Hopper: Light Years (New York: Hirschl and Adler Galleries, Inc., 1988).
Page 1 Libby’s House, 1927
Page 1 Prospect Street, Gloucester, 1928
Page 1 Rooms for Tourists, 1945
Page 2 Photograph, 1985
Page 2 Photograph, 1985
Page 2 Photograph, 1985
These paintings offer an insight into the tremendous talent that Hopper possessed and his ability to depict his surroundings from his artistic vantage point. He has done his job well, as Crane suggests, by leaving pictures of his own time as they appeared to him.
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