September 29, 2020

When the great painter Edward Hopper was a teenager, he painted copies of paintings by other artists — an utterly ordinary approach to learning how to paint.

But the NYT is making a weird huge deal out of this insignificant discovery: "Early Works by Edward Hopper Found to Be Copies of Other Artists/A grad student’s discovery 'cuts straight through the widely held perception of Hopper as an American original,' without a debt to others, a Whitney curator said."

Give me a break! These paintings by the teenager are not the Hopper paintings we've known and loved over the years. They're not the basis of any arguments about his Americanness and originality.

Let's look more closely at this article — by Blake Gopnik — and see what's really going on, why this inconsequential information is inflating into an exposé. Now, it is pretty cool that a scholar was able to find the exact images — the rather bad paintings — that teenaged Hopper used in his fumbling early efforts to manipulate oil paint.

Buried in the NYT article is the concession from the scholar (Louis Shadwick) that in those days "artists almost always got their start by copying." The article is marked as "updated," and I suspect that this is the updating. So let's continue:
A Londoner, [Shadwick] especially wants to understand the notion of “Americanness” that Hopper grew up around, and that then grew up around Hopper as his reputation matured; it still rules much of the talk about him....

In our new century, when the country’s place in the world seems less sure by the day and when even Americans are split on the state of their nation — does it need to be made great again or does it need to face up to past failures? — a “national” treasure like Hopper seems to beg for a fresh approach.
So this story is important because it fits the MAGA-versus-BLM theme of 2020?! Hopper embodies sentiments and modes of thinking that need interrogating.
“What is this Americanness that people are identifying? Where does it come from, is it useful as a term?” — Mr. Shadwick said those are the questions at the heart of his study of Hopper. Maybe it takes someone from elsewhere to recognize just how artificial and peculiar American identity has been, and how directly Hopper was involved in constructing it in his persona and his work.

“Yes, there’s a lot of talent and beauty and all that,” said Mr. Shadwick, who remains a big Hopper fan, “but there’s also a very conscious awareness of his place in history, and of the purported Americanness of the scenes he was painting.”
I think the "awareness" he's referring to is in the minds of people who value Hopper. Maybe those minds are full of delusions and mythology. They're only half-aware. Not... woke.
As the United States withdrew into itself in the period between the world wars, an “Americanist” tendency took stronger hold than ever in the country’s high culture, Mr. Shadwick explained, “and Hopper played along with it. Hopper knew exactly what he was doing for the market for his work.” As Mr. Shadwick writes, in thesis-ese, Hopper’s “centring of the white male Anglo-Saxon American experience, his regionalist sympathies for New England, and his eventual aversion to European-style modernism,” can all be connected to thoughts and feelings about the United States that were widely held in his day....
"Thesis-ese" — Gopnik is displaying some skepticism as he runs headlong into "the white male Anglo-Saxon American experience."
In rendering his pioneering views of everyday life in average America (or, as Mr. Shadwick would say, in the America Hopper helped define as average), Hopper chose an everyday style that brings him closer to the modest commercial illustration of his era than to the certified old masters... 
From the comments section over there:
To a non-painter, this looks like a huge non-story. I have several Hopper prints in my living room. I just checked and they look every bit as haunting and original as they did before I read this article.

94 comments:

ga6 said...

"Yeah, we nailed another white guy!!!" Te kindergarten room at NYT.

Joe Smith said...

It's hilarious the way art critics talk about paintings the same way wine snobs talk about cabernet...

All opinion dressed up as expertise.

JAORE said...

Isn't life better now that every-damned-thing is political?

Isn't life better now that every-damned thing is about how ray-cist we are?

Isn't life better now that every-damned thing is about how America is fatally flawed.

Isn't life better now that every-damned-thing is about how that Orange Man is very, VERY bad?

stutefish said...

I keep telling people, "the media is not your friend." But nobody believes me. It's always Gell-Mann Amnesia and "well, *that* media for *those people* isn't my friend, but *this* media always acts in my best interests."

Mikey NTH said...

I believe the word "pretentious" was created for just such writing.

PHenry said...

Just discovered: Lennon and McCartney learned to play their instruments by learning songs written by others, and then played cover songs early in their career. This cuts straight through the widely held perception that they were original songwriters!

gilbar said...

But the NYT is making a weird huge deal out of this insignificant discovery:

Protip! don't expect serious "news", from the NYT

Skipper said...

More proof that the NYTimes is nuts.

gilbar said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
gilbar said...

oh! he's the automat person!
sorry! i DO know him; and he's Awesome@!

n.n said...

Pulling down the statues, protesting on false foundations, are just the latest, visible effort to spread social contagion and tear America apart.

bonkti said...

In our new century, when the country’s place in the world seems less sure by the day....

Make America sure again.

Michael K said...

Woke=BS

buwaya said...

To claim that to have an American style is somehow parochial...

THAT is parochial. Here I am on a continent with dozens of distinct national aesthetics. And in Asia you have lots more. So, everyone gets a style, but Americans can't have one?

Some people need to be chased away with sticks.

BADuBois said...

It's all Trump's fault.

Jeff Gee said...

This is every artist of every kind, and it moves in all directions. Akira Kurasawa’s enormous debt to John Ford is obvious and acknowledged. The Beatles were marinated in American R & B and pop. Yeats went into hyperdrive when Pound introduced him to Japanese Noh plays. The Irish guitarist John Doyle picked up some interesting thumb-on-the-bottom string moves from Wes Montgomery. You pick up this, you discard that, somebody else mis-hears what you did and does something different and even cooler. How big an asshole do you have to be to not see how wonderful all this is??

Chris N said...

Keep the arts and sciences out of the hands of woke assholes.

They're like cult members.

Mockery works too.

tcrosse said...

Meanwhile, in the UK actor Laurence Fox has started a new political party
to fight the culture wars

Kate said...

I immediately think of the boardgame "Masterpiece", my first introduction to great paintings. Any child can see the difference between Hopper and Renoir, etc. Why did it resonate as American?

Probably because I learned about "brother, can you spare a dime" from Bugs Bunny cartoons.

Wince said...

The NYT has now expanded 1619 to a paint-by-numbers project.

tim maguire said...

The comments are fun. Many of the readers seem to know more about art than the writer. Sadly, that is becoming more and more normal for the Times.

Temujin said...

It is the 'you didn't build this!" mentality from the Left. They cannot understand the process in which a driven person learns, develops, and produces their goods or their arts. Which is funny, because they all seem to be so enamored by The Arts.

rcocean said...

Viewing Hopper's work from his Jewish Globalist perspective, Gopnik centered his criticism of Hopper from the 21st Century lens of viewing Hopper's "white male" paintings as foreign to the Establishment 2020 cultural globalist values. "His views were reflective of the the Anti-Americanist school, which Gopnik belonged to, and were a reaction to the perceived threat to their status and class interests by Trump", noted Professor X.

mikee said...

Old Masters are not certified as Old Masters. They are recognized as such, or lauded as such, or purchased at outrageous prices as Old Masters. But there is no certification for being an Old Master rather than an old average picture painter. Thus fails the critic in this criticism.

Even casually suggesting that there is a certification process for successful art, Old Masters or otherwise, takes us right back to the days when the Academy reigned, and early Impressionists had to starve in Parisian garrets.

Third Coast said...

Intellectuals...sigh.

rcocean said...

I sincerely doubt that Hopper's paintings were influenced by American "isolationism" - I would bet it had more to do with Hopper wanting to do something different, since it had become standard for American Painters to move to Europe or to paint upper class settings. Hopper was probably the first to paint modern, average American settings in a non-leftist way.

tim in vermont said...

I think Gertrude Stein, who took young writers under her wing, would have them copy novels word for word by typewriter.

But yeah, it’s a pathetic attack. Anthony Burgess said that juvenilia should never be published.

Chris said...

Geeze! Copying the masters is how you learn and grow. I've been creating my own sculptures based on Harry Bertoias for years now. Each time I grow more unique, while perfecting my bronze welding skills. There is nothing to this. All the great's have copied those that came before.

Ace Sullivan said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Quaestor said...

Gopnik is displaying some skepticism as he runs headlong into "the white male Anglo-Saxon American experience."

I suggest Gopnik has not the slightest inkling of the white (forgive the superfluous adjective) male Anglo-Saxon American experience. Running headlong into the Anglo-Saxon would leave him in a regrettable condition, one fears, as millions more from the slopes of Mount Badon to the stygian streets of Abbottabad could attest if they yet lived. I know a bit about this subject, though I'm more than half a Norman.

People who praise or damn a work of art on account of the artist are philistines, to put it bluntly. Art stands on its own. The identity of the artist, his opinions, his hates, his loves are aesthetically immaterial. The artist as celebrity is an unfortunate development in the history of civilization. Both art and the enjoyers of art would be better off if today's artists were as anonymous as the vast majority of Classical, Medieval, and Renaissance painters and sculptors.

Ralph L said...

If the painter isn't het, you must acquit.

Yancey Ward said...

Hopper was a white guy, right? 'Nuff said.

Sam L. said...

Well, It IS the NYT (which I despise, detest, and distrust).

Birkel said...

Cancel culture comes for things about which Althouse cares.

Where is that crocodile?

stlcdr said...

"You didn't paint that!"

pious agnostic said...

Wokeness is the Gnosticism of the 21st Century.

Sprezzatura said...

https://www.designboom.com/art/edward-hopper-western-motel-recreated-3d-hotel-experience-vmfa-02-04-2020/

daskol said...

Gopnik's centring of the Europhilic America-hating urban sophisticate's experience, reminds of his brother Adam's similar tendency. His asshole may be the center of his universe, but not mine.

wendybar said...

Law and Order vs Violence and Hate?? I'll take MAGA over the Violence and hate any day...as I am sure MOST sane Americans would.

Assistant Village Idiot said...

It seems like the whole thing is an excuse to talk about his political ideas, not Hopper.

Artists and art critics often make reference about using art to start a conversation about something. It's a tell, isn't it, that their goal is to talk about things endlessly.

I do give credit for not using the phrase "in the age of Trump." It shows discipline.

PM said...

Trump is the lazy journalist's pal.
He's been providing mag & nsp writers with an easy summation to whatever they're yammering about. What'll they do w/o him? Think for themselves? That muscle has gotten flabby.

tim in vermont said...

Every day, even after cancelling my subscription, I get an email from the New York Times purporting to tell me what I “need to know.”

“Know just this, and no more, and don’t examine it critically, and you can be a good Democrat.”

tommyesq said...

As the United States withdrew into itself in the period between the world wars, an “Americanist” tendency took stronger hold than ever in the country’s high culture, Mr. Shadwick explained, “and Hopper played along with it. Hopper knew exactly what he was doing for the market for his work.”

Art these days would be far superior if more artists considered the market for their work rather than the virtue-signaling of the museum-label appearing next to said "art."

JMW Turner said...

This is my contention with this cultural appropriation nonsense; a principle thread running through human endeavors in history has been the story of curiosity for, and often, admiration of other cultures' attempts in solving universal human issues, both the profound and the mundane. Why start from scratch in the invention of the wheel as a solution to transportation needs, when another tribe has worked out many of the technical problems facing its implementation? This may be a cliche, but it is truth that all of contemporary Mankind stands on the shoulders of the heroes and heroines of the past, both major and minor.

Ace Sullivan said...

I grew up in Nyack, NY with the Hopper House as a neighbor. I never thought to "seek to illuminate the artist’s innate absorption of American cultural politics" and certainly never "interrogated the development and cultivation of [his] Americanist persona...

WTF does that even mean...that he grew up drawing what was around him, with a mastery of light it seems, in a way that brought out the strangeness of everyday life. And now because Racism!, his works are just another White Man drawing White Things not even knowing that there were other Oppressed Truths and this isn't even Amerikkan but more Systemic Racism because What About Coloured Stories of the 20s? AND, he didn't even draw all his stuff...he COPIED it from magazines.

I just liked the pictures. Deconstruct that.

Narr said...

OFFS. This is the kind of thing that gives art historians and critics a bad name.

Narr
Fake news

Bilwick said...

It isn't just painters who copy without plagiarizing. Several books on writing I've read recommend that the aspiring writer copy--not just imitate, but copy--published writers they admire to absorb the rhythms of the prose. In the movie FINDING FORRESTER, an aspriring
young writer becomes the student of a reclusive established writer (Sean Connery), and one of the "finger exercises" the Connery character assigns the young apprentice is to simply copy some of his (Connery's) published works. This leads to trouble when one of the copy manuscripts is accidentally submitted as an original work,

NorthOfTheOneOhOne said...

JAORE said...

Isn't life better now that every-damned-thing is political?

It's not about politics. It's about ginning up some notoriety for Louis Shadwick, who most likely can't draw a decent stick man.

Yancey Ward said...

The hilarious thing is that I was reading this blog post while listening to The Rolling Stones doing "Little Queenie".

Narr said...

Now do Jackson Pollock.

Narr
NYTwits!

wild chicken said...

The reporters don't know anything.

See Gell-Mann Amnesia effect.

That's our news media!

Kevin said...

Shorter NYT: The only way to be an original artist is to grow up without any appreciation of art. Unless you’re black, then you can’t help but be drowned in the art of your white oppressor.

Fernandinande said...

Most grad students in the history of criticism dream of discovering an unknown criticism by whatever great critic they are studying.

Fernandinande has achieved just the opposite: In researching his doctorate on Blake Gopnik, for the storied Slack Institute in Dobbstown, "Mr." Fernandinande has discovered that three of the great American’s earliest criticisms, from the 1970s, can only barely count as his original criticisms. Two are copies of criticisms "Mr." Fernandinande found reproduced in a magazine for amateur critics published in the years before Gopnik’s criticisms. The copied criticisms even came with detailed instructions for making the copies.

Fernandinande said...

Most grad students in the history of criticism dream of discovering an unknown criticism by whatever great critic they are studying.

Fernandinande has achieved just the opposite: In researching his doctorate on Blake Gopnik, for the storied Slack Institute in Dobbstown, "Mr." Fernandinande has discovered that three of the great American’s earliest criticisms, from the 1970s, can only barely count as his original criticisms. Two are copies of criticisms "Mr." Fernandinande found reproduced in a magazine for amateur critics published in the years before Gopnik’s criticisms. The copied criticisms even came with detailed instructions for making the copies.

chuck said...

Newton stood on the shoulders of giants. Who were those mysterious giants?

Bruce Gee said...

Newcomers into a field need a hook in order to find a niche, I guess is one way to put it. When my son was in grad school in classics at UVA, one of his professors admitted that the past ten years of research had been almost completely in the studies of gender and race, a way of rehashing the old masters with updated prejudices. This incidentally allowed for younger scholars to earn their chops. Once a solid new position is established, you are a made woman.
This is, of course, ongoing in all academic fields. When they run out of ways to study gender and race, I have no idea what they will circle around to. Maybe they'll take a new look at ancient writing styles.

minnesota farm guy said...

Whenever you see any piece of art "criticism" you just have to remind yourself of "The Kramer" and the hog wash that went with it.

tim in vermont said...

This is the same New York Times that, IIRC, several years ago complained that the painters who produced Soviet propaganda art were not being given the respect they deserved as artists for painting what they were told to paint how they were told to paint it.

This is just one more effort to tell artists what to paint and how to paint it; nothing outside the state. I can’t for the life of me figure out why any artist would support the left, but they do. Maybe they are like the dog who thinks that this time when he goes to the door, it won’t be raining.

hombre said...

Does Hopper have an estate? Aren’t reparation to some long dead artists in order?

Static Ping said...

More pseudo-intellectual moronity from the New York Times.

Marc said...

I had a pleasant 'conversation' on Twitter earlier with someone whose writing is at the Times this morning, reminding myself that they are not all crass propagandists. Of course, the woman is a freelance writer, not NYT staff.

Mid-Life Lawyer said...

They are really going to freak out when they find those coloring books.

Ceciliahere said...

Shadwick, a Londoner, what a surprise! Britain has been irrelevant on the world stage for years. The British love to denigrate anything American and yet they dance to our music, view our movies, follow our celebrities, wear our fashion, etc. But it seems that the “cousins”who need us have disdain for Americans and resent us because of this need. There is a love/hate relationship going on in the UK for Yanks. It’s hard for the Brits to see that their best days are in the rear view mirror. So, I’m not surprised that this art critic has nothing good to say. But, who cares...Hopper is an American treasure and a unique American Master.

BothSidesNow said...

Hopper was much more than a regionalist. The Richmond Art Museum had a show last fall that highlighted many of his motel paintings. He and his wife did several cross-country road trips, and also trips to Mexico. The motel paintings, like everything else of Hopper, are wonderful. Critics should tread carefully when writing about an artist known so well by so many. It is pretty easy to sniff out the bull shit. Better to write about some obscure artist from 19th Century Bavaria that no one has ever of.

Professional lady said...

I recently read the book "The Forger's Spell." It is the true story of how an art forger got some truly lousy paintings accepted by the art establishment in the Netherlands and elsewhere as Vermeer paintings. He even sold one of his awful forgeries to Goering. The forger was mostly due to ego and BS. Good book.

Chennaul said...

Matisse did the very same thing at the beginning. He copied paintings at the Louvre and sold them. Copies of Poussin.

(Pg. 18 Matisse the Master by Hilary Spurling)

daskol said...

I like that we have a European, or at least a Brit from an erstwhile European nation, studying American fine artists. That is right and good and welcome. How about hearing about it from someone proud of that heritage, instead of the scribblings of a standard issue insecure American sophisticate who is apparently uncomfortable with this inversion, ashamed of the mere commercial illustrator style of the work.

daskol said...

Ceciliahere, the best pop/rock bands ever are British, so maybe they have a little something left in the tank, so long as they work in the American idiom, at least.

Chennaul said...

Also as to the charge of “marketing” Matisse supposedly said that realism in painting was dead because of the advent of photography and therefore painters would need to do something else.

Chennaul said...

The charge of marketing can also be applied to Matisse. He supposedly said that after the advent of photography realism in art was dead and painters would need to do something else.

Static Ping said...

When you objectively have no skills and no achievements worth noting and it really bothers you, crapping over people with real skills and real achievements is a common coping mechanism. This is what happens when you put said losers in positions of authority.

Tomcc said...

I'm too lazy to look; was this from Mary Trump?

MadisonMan said...

I wonder whose criticism style Gropnik is copying. Happily, I am not fluent enough in critical theory to know.

I'm Full of Soup said...

Gopnik is just following the required NYT template of "America Bad". Get used to it - we have noticed it for years now. What took you so long?

DanTheMan said...

>>does it need to be made great again or does it need to face up to past failures?

We can do both, of course.

I'm Full of Soup said...

Buyawa said at 10:36AM

"Some people need to be chased away with sticks.:

I plan to "borrow" your saying for use on numerous occasions.

Unknown said...

OMG X learned to play guitar by playing songs by OTHER PEOPLE!!! He isn't a genius after all.
FFS

Earnest Prole said...

This is so mind-numbingly stupid I refuse to read it. Copying the work of masters has been standard artistic apprenticeship practice for what, eight-hundred years? I remember my first trip to the Metropolitan seeing a student with his paints and easel set up in front of a masterwork he was copying, and then noticing paint splatters on the wooden floors of other rooms where other students had worked.

Kassaar said...

“I mentioned imitation. I’ve made this point elsewhere, and I do my best not to repeat myself, but this bears repeating: there is nothing wrong with learning your craft by imitation while you discover what you want to write about. In other fields imitation isn’t, so far as I know, even an issue. It’s common for painters to learn by creating studies of their predecessors’ work. Beethoven’s first symphony sounds like Haydn, Wagner’s symphony sounds like Beethoven, Richard Strauss’s first opera sounds remarkably Wagnerian, and there’s an early symphonic poem by Bartók that sounds very much like Richard Strauss, but who could mistake the mature work of these composers for the music of anyone else? In my smaller way, once I’d filled a book with my attempts to be Lovecraft I was determined to sound like myself, and Alone with the Horrors may stand as a record of the first thirty years of that process.”

(by British writer Ramsey Campbell)

Martin said...

3 years ago it was Robert E. Lee--OK, he was a Confederate who fought on tehs ide of slavery, so we will ignore his good qualities.

3 month ago it was Teddy Roosevelt and George Washington--harder cases than Lee, but TR was something of a colonialist and GW did own slaves.

Now we have to go after Edward Hopper, there aren't any bigger targets? And for absolutely nothing that makes any sense at all. We cannot leave a single stone unturned in our quest to delegitimize everyting about the USA?

roesch/voltaire said...

There is a long tradition of copying master or artist you like as a form of apprenticeship. I started my painting career very late in life and one way I learn is to do close studies of painters I like. I just finished a painting based on Matisse's still life with fish. It is not meant as an exact copy but friends tell me I have captured the warm spirit of his work. Still It can not be considered my original work and I don't represent it as such to any interested buyer.

CWJ said...

OK. Now do Thomas Hart Benton. Then WPA art in general. Get it out of your system and move on.

JMW Turner said...

One assignment in my drawing class had us choose an artist to study by copying various examples by this artist and produce a "new" mash-up. I chose Vermeer. By creating a new imagined example of his seventeenth century works, I was able to examine his techniques in nuanced detail. It was a classroom exercise. It wasn't me falsely claiming this work as my creation, only as a tool for understanding his technical genius in visual layout and utilization of the camera obscura giveaways such as extreme detail, narrow field of focus, and play of surface light in an impressionistic sense.

CWJ said...

Peanut butter @ 11:21am.

Thanks for that link.

h said...

I borrow books from my local library website. Every single time I have logged in for the last five (ten? twenty?) years, the "top line promoted" books have been books (a) by women (b) by blacks. (Occasionally by other PoC.) But never, not once, has a book by a white man been promoted. Maybe (you'll say) it's just rebalancing centuries of White Men dominating the arts. So I don't complain to my library (and it wouldn't matter, and it doesn't really hurt me). But I think we need to recognize, in the current intellectual climate, we cannot celebrate a white man (Hopper) as illustrative of "American art". The face of American art must be a woman, or a person of color.

wholelottasplainin' said...

chuck said...
Newton stood on the shoulders of giants. Who were those mysterious giants?
*********

I take it the term "metaphor" has escaped your notice.

chickelit said...

Chop suey or sui generis?

tcrosse said...

Immature poets imitate; mature poets steal.

Michael K said...

It is not meant as an exact copy but friends tell me I have captured the warm spirit of his work. Still It can not be considered my original work and I don't represent it as such to any interested buyer.

My middle daughter worked for an art gallery in Venice CA as an archivist. She has an MLS from UCLA. She discovered a forgery of some 19th century painter I had never heard of. However, the gallery owner (this is "Silicon Beach" after all) had paid an auction price of $250,000. He got his money back with the evidence she provided. No doubt the painting was then sold to the next sucker.

Seafarious said...

I grew up in the Midwest and haven't been back in many years.

I went to see an exhibit of Hopper's work in the Renwick Gallery in DC, and as the kids express it right now, I felt SEEN.

Hopper spoke directly to my Midwestern soul.

These were my neighbors, these were my parent's bridge partners. These were the Garvers down the street, with clear plastic covers on the sofas and lampshades, and plastic runners on the carpet in every room in the house. These were the coffee klatsches and ambrosia salad. This was CASSEROLE.

And hell yes, so very very American.

MD Greene said...

Even I knew that artists starting out practiced replicating earlier works. It was a way to study the masters' techniques. If one of them tried to sell the works as an original, that would be a problem. But that wasn't the point.

The idea that new art didn't build on what came before is bullshit. Early Picassos were like the art of their day and led him forward. You don't get "Guernica" or "Les Demoiselles d'Avignon" out of college students.

News outlets would have a lot more credibility if their contributors had even passing familiarity with literature, art, history, economics
and philosophy before 2010.

MD Greene said...

Even I knew that young artists practiced replicating earlier works. It was a way to study the masters' techniques. If a newbie tried to pass off such a work as an original, that would be a problem. But that wasn't what happened.

The idea that new art doesn't build on what came before is bullshit. Early Picassos were like the art of their day and led him forward. You don't get "Guernica" or "Les Demoiselles d'Avignon" out of college students.

News outlets would have a lot more credibility if their contributors had even passing familiarity with the literature, art, history, economics and philosophy of times before 2010.

Sam L. said...

That's the NYT for you, which I despise, detest, and distrust. I can't disbelieve it because I don't read it.

Professional lady said...

Corrrection: "The forger was mostly successful due to ego and BS." JMW Turner, you should read that book.