June 29, 2006

"A rush of generalized nostalgia, a soft-centered melancholy."

Holland Cotter opines on Edward Hopper:
To me he's a period illustrator with something extra. Like most effective graphic design, his pictures grab the eye, spark an emotion and get into your system, all in a flash. But too often the first look is the best look, and the first emotion — with Hopper, a rush of generalized nostalgia, a soft-centered melancholy — the only one. It's an experience; it's not nothing. I just wish it were more.

That's a well-inserted dagger.


Palladian said...

That piece is a fair assessment of Hopper's work; I often like Cotter's criticism, and I'm not just saying that because Cotter once, aeons ago, gave me a good review. The paintings have a lot of merit, but i've always wanted Hopper to be a better artist than he actually is. His handling of paint is a little flaccid, a little too dry, a little too clumsy. One doesn't notice this so much in reproductions, which is why it's fair to say that the paintings work better as designs and illustrations of empty Sunday mornings than paintings.

The other sad thing about Hopper is that I've actually heard someone express dismay upon seeing Hopper's painting "Nighthawks", that Marilyn Monroe and James Dean aren't actually in it.

Buddy Larsen said...

His design and graphic elements are so strong that they do for a fact overshadow the painterly aspect. But "Nighthawks" has gotta be one of the half dozen best known American paintings--no small achievement. Especially if you believe Barton Fink, who liked to say (but never believed) that "art has to be for the common man".

Marghlar said...

This quote captures very well my dissatisfaction with Hopper.

Troy said...

and yet I keep thinking "Holland who?" I'm sure that makes me a philistine. I also know he's a somebody in the art world (NYT!), but do I need somebody to sniff at me because I like Hopper?

In 50 years people will most likely know which one better? I doubt Hopper is still going strong (though I am prepared to be entirely wrong) due to mere nostalgia and melancholy. Now if we're still talking about Thomas Kinkade in 50 years... Western Civilization will truly be extinct.

johnstodderinexile said...

All right, I understand what Cotter is saying. But doesn't Hopper fill a niche? Is there an artist of that era that captures the human condition in the 20th century better? Yes -- among the German expressionsists, there are several, and they were more radical and aggressive in tone. Hopper is "soft" by comparison, but couldn't that be a form of compassion? Is that P.O.V. as opposed to the German expressionist panic, fury and disgust, not also valid?

Pogo said...

From the article: "And then there's Edward Hopper. For the present occasion he is given the whole fifth floor (apart from the mezzanine level) for a survey that stretches from youthful drawings to his textbook paintings of buildings and rooms
carved from slabs of light."

It's got to be art critic hell when the bib-overalled, hamburgered, Oprahed, People-magazined, church-goin', romance-readin' masses stand in line for this stuff, while more deserving artistes are ignored.

He does write well, and I understand his complaint. It's quite possible Hopper is just for rubes in ballcaps or halter tops. But it misses the point, really. The power to draw others in is hard to ignore. Does it not make Cotter question his wisdom, or is he of the modern art school that supposes a truly fine work of art would be utterly despised by all but three or four cognoscenti?

So Cotter, give ol' Eddy some props, tell us maybe why he's appealing to people, without supposing they're all too stupid to know which pictures are pretty to look at and which aren't.

bearbee said...

I was not able to access the article. The discussion centers more on technique than emotion. I have visited the painting in the Art Institute and it never fails to evoke some unfathomable emotional reaction. Although I did not live through the depression it puts me in mind of it. In today's glitzy and gadget-filled lives with 24/7 noise aka entertainment, perhaps it is viewed as remote and relic like. Given the state of our fiscal plight it may become more reality than relic

Hoppers self portrait seems to depict something slightly desperate and slightly wild around the eyes.

Troy said...

Pogo... you're right. Any artist, to have staying power -- assuming "the test of time" is the best (or a good) test of great art, has to have some cache with at least a significant section of the hoi polloi.

It goes without saying, almost, that Hopper is no Kirchner (since you brought up German Expressionists), but Kirchner couldn't -- or wouldn't have -- painted Compartment C, Car 293 or Nighthawks either.

Palladian... I guess that means Elvis isn't in Nighthawks either? Damn! I bet that painting wasn't done on velvet either! :-)

VW -- aqhurb -- a Pakistani doctor who has spread marijuana growing technology around the Middle East -- like AQ Khan

P. Froward said...

He did some things badly, but his Cape Cod paintings are the real thing.

I see no point in discussing Nighthawks. It's buried under too much prefabricated cultural garbage, it's effectively invisible to us at this point. Nabokov was right: Anomie is kitsch.

Troy said...

I agree P. She needs to lower the blinds. Iggy Pop with breasts.

Buddy Larsen said...

Some see the antithesis of anomie, tho, in the painting. Thanks for that great Nabokov bit--I agree, the act of creation itself makes anomie as a theme only decorative.

37921 said...

Perhaps Hopper is the Jerry Lewis of American artists -- the French seem to hold him in rather higher regard than our own learned critics do. This book, which has Conference at Night on its cover, contains a very enlightening essay comparing Hopper with Camus and other existentialists.