(Edward Hopper's People in the Sun and Room by the Sea)
Edward Hopper is an artist I admire immensely. This review by Professor Donald Kuspit of Hopper's art currently on display at the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York irritated me to no end. The ever manufactured new angle, interpretation, reconstruction, deconstruction of an established and well known artist's work have their merits only if something hitherto unknown surfaces about his/ her life and philosophy to shed new light on the artist's motivation and technique. Beyond that we ought to leave art alone - to be seen, understood and enjoyed by viewers as they see fit. I have argued this before in an earlier post where I made a similar point about the heavy handed silliness of art mavens.
"There’s been much talk about the moody silences of Hopper’s spaces and the oddly disturbed figures around or in them -- they seem to be living the lives of quiet desperation that Thoreau spoke of. But I suggest that the people are distractions from Hopper’s real concern: buildings. They abound in Hopper’s works, often dwarfing the figures into insignificance _ _ or using them as foils to offset structure and space. Buildings are man-made constructions of geometrical space, and as such inherently abstract and autonomous. They have a charismatic quality of their own, independently of the people who use them. Hopper is a kind of Cubist, treating buildings as abstract structures with a life of their own, and often more uncannily alive than the people who use them.
Cubism was in part inspired by Cézanne’s "little cubes," as Picasso called the buildings that spotted Cézanne’s late landscapes. They are the point of departure for the cunning geometry of the buildings in Picasso’s early Analytic Cubist masterpieces ... Hopper’s houses also have the authority of geometry, but they look peculiarly irrational next to Picasso’s Cubist houses, which, for all their oddness, have a quasi-Bauhaus look, although they’re eccentrically rather than dogmatically rationalist.
Hopper’s houses are also recognizable as functional buildings inhabitable by human beings. Picasso’s aren’t: they have no human function. They’re pure abstractions, formal constructions which seem to have no human significance...... Modern rationalist architecture is in fact not very functional, if part of its function is to emotionally support people, not simply to physically contain them.
Hopper’s buildings may read as Cubist archisculptures, but they clearly have psychosocial import. Hopper registers their effect on the people who live and work in them: his buildings raise the pressing question of when a house becomes a home -- an empathic place, more humanly meaningful than an abstract castle. Never, Hopper’s pictures imply: the fit between his buildings and his people is not very good. (italics mine)
Did we need to be reminded of this rather easily discernible truth contained in the last line of the preceding paragraph? Whoever sees Hopper's art will figure out quickly that the "aloof misfit" between the human figures and their surroundings is in fact what makes Hopper's Americana distinct from Norman Rockwell's cheerful version. The title of Kuspit's review poses the wholly unnecessary riddle : "Edward Hopper: Cubist in Disguise?" In my opinion, Hopper was nothing in disguise. He was a brilliant realist who painted what he saw and felt. Yes, he drew a lot of buildings. Buildings have sharp angles, lines and geometric shapes and they cast shadows of sharp angles, lines and geometric shapes. So what? Should that make him a cubist? Sometimes a line is just a line and an angle forms where the lines meet. Happens all the time when you draw or paint. There were (and are) artists who willingly defined themselves as impressionists, expressionists, cubists, surrealists etc. etc. Hopper did not. In fact from what I know, he didn't talk about his art much and let the paintings do the talking. Please read the review if you have the patience and note that Kuspit admits in the end that Hopper was not in fact a cubist. Then what was the point of this lengthy speculation? Please see some of Hopper's work here and decide if one has to go into such convoluted lengths to truly appreciate Hopper's forlorn brilliance?