On Wednesday, we focused on gaze and style in seminar class. In art, gaze is how the viewer sees the subject of a painting and it helps the viewer develop a relationship with the subject. A person’s style is their identity during the time period. In class we analyzed different paintings by Edward Hopper and in doing this, we tied together two important concepts in art, gaze and style, because Edward Hopper’s predominant style in his artwork is the different kinds of perspectives that he gives his viewers.
In New York Interior, the subject of the painting is a woman who is sewing. From the viewer’s perspective, her back is the only thing we can see and no relationship is developed between the viewer and the woman. In Night Shadows, the viewer has an aerial perspective of a man in a hurry, although, we can develop a relationship with this subject and relate with him because we have all been in a hurry before. In Hopper’s self-portrait, we get a rare view of a subject’s face, and there is less mystery behind what the subject is feeling because his eyes are directed towards us and convey several different meanings.
After looking at Hopper’s painting, it seems clear that he focuses on giving his viewer a different perspective in every painting. I also feel that in all the paintings I have looked at, there is a sense of loneliness. Either there is a person alone, or there are a group of people and then there is a person off to the wayside like in “Nighthawks.”
In class on Wednesday we continued our look at Edward Hopper paintings while also discussing an idea brought up by John Berger in Ways of Seeing. Although looking at Hopper’s collection was interesting, our discussion on the excerpt from Ways of Seeing was what I really enjoyed about Wednesday’s seminar. Discussing the idea that men can always get away with a lot more as far as appearance goes is something I definitely agree with but never really gave much thought to. The fact that it was so obvious yet seemed so new was probably what left me in awe. As an example, we took a closer look at Robert Di Nero at a special event. In the picture, Di Nero looked like he had barely put any effort into his appearance. His hair was gray and a bit messy, he looked a bit scruffy which gave the impression that he was too lazy to shave that morning, and it seemed as though he wore his wrinkles proudly, taking no measures to hide them. We then took another look at the Mona Lisa and the effort she must have put into her appearance. It is exactly this that likely made her worthy enough to be the subject of Da Vinci’s painting. Her hair looked done, her dress was elegant and made of rich material, and she even included accessories like a veil and shawl. By the end of our discussion I was convinced, and even a bit uneasy.
Some other things that stood out to me from Wednesday’s class were a few of the paintings by Edward Hopper. The first piece was Hopper’s New York Interior. At first glance I really liked the painting. Although I was unable to see the woman in the painting’s face, I still managed to feel bad for her. This was probably because of her bulging muscles that told the story of her hardworking and tiring life, or the small and dark apartment that she was forced to live in because she was probably not doing too well for herself. Another painting that I recall is Night Shadows. I remember being intrigued by this painting when it was first put up on the projector. I thought it was pretty cool how Hopper was able to make me uncomfortable by convincing me that I was stalking the suspiciously speed walking man that was in the painting. The scene is dark and brings on some mystery, which seems to be a trend with Edward Hopper considering that New York Interior, American Landscape, Seven A.M. and a couple of others that have this same element of style. Another trend that I found looking at Hopper’s collection is his obsession with shapes. In Night Shadows Hopper paints columns in the background which adds a number of vertical lines to the piece. The same occurs in New York Interior where vertical lines and rectangles are made into curtains, doors, and a detailed fireplace with columns. Hopper cannot even control himself from adding a bit of this element to his self- portrait where he includes the door and doorframe of the room he is sitting in.
An artist uses his style to make the painting recognizable as his own. The style is like his signature and can be a slight reflection of him. This is true for Edward Hopper’s paintings as well. When reviewing Edward Hopper’s collection, one may notice a common pattern and theme throughout his work. Hopper seems to paint scenes with which most people can relate to. Whether it is a depiction of a late night in the bar or of a farmhouse by the tracks, Hopper gives viewers a taste of typical American life. This is accomplished in a way that makes the viewer feel like he is watching the subject’s life as it happens. We, the audience, are somewhat eavesdropping on other people’s everyday activities without their consent or knowledge.
This style is evident in all of Hopper’s work. In “New York Interior”, we are introduced to a young woman who appears to be sewing in her room. Yet we only get a glimpse of the woman’s back. Unlike the “Mona Lisa”, whose gaze is directed back at us, this woman is unaware of her audience and is just engrossed in her regular activities. While the subject of “The Mona Lisa” is posing and appears to be dressed and groomed to impress, the woman in “New York Interior” remains oblivious of onlookers. This way, the audience feels like they are getting an unbiased and unaltered view of American life; we are seeing the scenes exactly as they are, with no sugar coating. Even in “American Landscape”, where there are no people in the scene, the cows in the painting have their backs to the audience and are not aware that they are being watched.
Similarly, in “A Woman in the Sun”, the audience is spying on a woman who appears to have just gotten out of bed and is warming in the sun before she dresses and proceeds with her day. This woman’s gaze is not directed at us. She, too, does not know she has an audience and would probably have had her door closed; yet we are in the room with her and can witness this private moment.
When Chris showed the class his own photography and style, he announced that he keeps his pictures “real.” He does not tell the subjects where to stand or how to pose. He takes the pictures as they are really happening and allows us to share in their real experiences. Like Chris, Hopper creates paintings that are “real.” The audience can see events as they are happening with no added bias from the painter or pretense from the subject. The scene is not merely art. It is real life.
I think Edward Hopper’s style is a combination of Americana-realism and Expressionism. From the artwork viewed in class and the few other paintings and etchings I’ve looked at online, Hopper’s art is almost timeless with the only thing dating it being the fashion he depicts. His landscape and architectural scenes are still relevant today. If you go out to Maine you’ll still see lighthouses similar to the one depicted in the Lighthouse at Two Lights. If you go out into the countryside you might still see a house by train tracks sort of like House by the Railroad.
In Hopper’s paintings depicting people (Nighthawks, Chop Suey, Cape Cod Evening, Hotel Window), the scenes are of people are doing normal, everyday things that aren’t out of the ordinary. Eating out late, looking over the pasture or out the window, working late hours in the office, are all things a majority of people can relate to. This allows emotion to be depicted. Many of Hopper’s paintings evoke feelings of loneliness primarily because many of his subjects are alone. A lone women eating Chinese food or waiting by the exit of a movie (New York Movie) make the viewer feel the loneliness. Even with his architectural paintings, Hopper will often paint one subject be it house, lighthouse, or farm. The same emotions are conjured up when viewing the architectural paintings even though a house isn’t alive.
The viewer can also feel the monotony of everyday life in many of Hopper’s paintings. Even today, people still work late shifts and can relate to a painting of two people working during the night. People are able to relate to two friends going out to eat. Even though automats are no longer part of American culture, at one time or another many of us have eaten in a public place by ourselves. Being able to relate to the painting makes the viewer able to feel the loneliness and sadness depicted in many of Hopper’s paintings. Even in Seven A.M. and unsettling feeling can be felt because the viewer can see the storm brewing in the painting.
Being able to feel the emotions in Hopper’s paintings is why I think his artwork is part Expressionism. It is also Americana-realism because many of the settings in his artwork can be seen, even today, in America.
On Wednesday’s class we focused on Edward Hopper and his technique. We looked at a number of different pieces by Hopper and we identified trends which appear throughout his works. The element which stands out to me most when I look at an Edward Hopper painting is the darkness. Even when he is painting the simplest of scenes his work evokes a dissonance which makes me uncomfortable.
This dissonance was present in the painting “Seven A.M.” (1948), which shows a store placed in the middle of a forest. The white of the store creates a sense of purity, and simplicity, but it is placed within the darkness and unknown of the forest . The picture of these two things together doesn’t sit right with me as the viewer. This darkness is also evident in his painting, “New York Interior” (1921). At first it seems simple, a girl sitting on her bed, but after looking at the scene for more time I get the feeling that once again something is not right. The girl has her back to the viewer which makes it seem as though we are intruding on her in some way, and the framing of the scene with what appears to be bed curtains, paints the viewer a voyeur, lurking in the shadows. The curves of the girl’s body also adds to the darkness of the scene. Although we can only see her back we can tell that the girl is relatively young yet the curves of her arms suggest that she has had to work hard in her life.
The element of being watched without your consent is also evident in his painting “Nigh Shadows” (1921). The aerial point of view of a man walking at night alone on a street draped in disfiguring shadows makes it seem as though the man is being followed. Not only is the painter watching him as he walks, but his own shadow seems to be stalking him as he hurries down the desolate street. In addition to the structure of “Night Shadows”, this painting reminds me of Cat Steven’s song “Moon Shadow” which creeped me out as a child. The idea that a shadow could be alive and following you and that you could never really escape it made me scared out of my mind when I first heard it.
Even Hopper’s “Self Portrait” has an air of darkness to it. The slant of the picture and the manner in which looks at the viewer through the corner of his eye makes it seem as though he is asking the viewer, “What do you see when you look at me?”. His confusion brings a sadness to the picture, as well as a vulnerability. As an artist he knows how art is picked apart and analyzed, so by offering up his self portrait he is offering up himself to be picked apart and analyzed. He looks at the viewer with a suspicion which suggests that he may not be comfortable with their interpretation of him. He doesn’t trust to viewer and this adds a darkness to the painting.
Despite the darkness motif present throughout his work, I think that Edward Hopper’s darkness speaks to a deeper truth…that there is no light without darkness.
We opened the class by discussing gaze. I think this came into play later on in the class when discussing Edward Hopper’s style. In terms of painting and photography, gaze is where the subject’s eyes are looking. For example, we see reciprocal gaze when we look at the Mona Lisa. She is staring right at us as we stare at her.
While analyzing Edward Hopper’s paintings, I thought his style was pretty clear. He seemed to create a candid feeling by having his subjects’ gaze directed away from the viewer. In New York Interior, the girl in the painting has her back turned to us, so we don’t even see her face. In Night Shadows, we view a man from above as he is walking away. In East Side Interior, the woman is looking out her window. Self Portrait shows him looking slightly away from the viewer, continuing the trend. In our last class, we analyzed Hopper’s Nighthawks, and in it, none of the subjects had their gaze directed at us.
So in my opinion, Hopper’s style is clear. He liked to paint his pictures in a candid way. I think it created more realism, as it depicts his subjects in more life-like situations. It’s like we, the viewers, are getting a sneak peek into their everyday lives.
This week in seminar, we spoke about gaze. First, we gazed at a picture of Robert DeNiro, an exemplar of power and fame. We spoke about the specific features of his face that complemented his personality. Even though the picture was taken at an award ceremony, he looked like he had not shaved recently, and his long hair was not done flawlessly like many other stars would have their hair if they had been in his position. This conveys his rough persona perfectly. Robert DeNiro has a certain attitude that everyone knows because he is so famous. His “tough guy” carefree attitude allows him to get away with things like neglecting to shave for an award ceremony, because it is almost expected of him to be rough around the edges and to not care about what others think of him. We also spoke about how there are different expectations for women that are higher than those for men. For example, if a female movie star went to an award ceremony wearing a dress with the tag still on it, she would be criticized by every news station on television about how she “made such a careless mistake,” but if Robert DeNiro went to the same ceremony with his fly open, we would just laugh it off because it would almost be normal to us.
So today, I decided to ask myself a slightly different question on the same topic. Why do we have different views and expectations of famous people than we do for ourselves? If an obnoxious rapper like Kanye West wore a chicken suit one day, no one would even question it. News stations would glorify him for “showing us that everyone can be beautiful in their own way.” Meanwhile, if we saw an ordinary person on the street wearing the same chicken suit, we would probably call the police to contain the mentally unstable and threatening individual. This made me realize that we have a much different view of our lives than we do for celebrities’ lives. We have trained ourselves to be very professional and contained in our everyday lives, but we look to celebrities to view life on the other side; they may represent the side of personality that we wish we could get away with in our everyday lives. Not that we can’t have fun in our “day jobs” per say, but looking at celebrities that act silly and outrageous every day makes us wonder what it would be like. It is almost as if celebrities live a “dream life,” where they can do things that would be unacceptable in average society.
Everyone has their own sense of style, from how they dress to how they speak to how they write. The list can go on and on. Artists, through their work, express their own unique perspective and style. Now, you can not look at one piece from an artist’s portfolio and say, “Hey! His style is ….”. It doesn’t work like that. Style and perspective are developed over many many years and can be seen across various works. So, for example, let’s look at the style of Edward Hopper.
One of Hopper’s most famous works, which we discussed in the last post, is Nighthawks. In the painting, you can see how Hopper uses various light sources and angles to move characters either into the background or foreground. For example, the man sitting by himself at the bar looks a lot darker in the picture than the rest of the characters, while the bartender and couple sitting on the other side are very well lit and distinguishable. In addition, the outside surroundings of the bar are very dark and poorly lit. Your eyes are drawn into the diner, and directly to the couple.
Now, let’s take a look at Night Shadows, another Hopper painting. The same principals of style apply here. In my opinion, I think that this painting is less about the character, but the fact the no one else is around. We as viewers feel almost like we are stalking this man from the rooftops as he is walking to his destination. Once again, the use of the light source, which is greatly exaggerated (which can be concluded by the shadows), is meant to highlight the street and vacancy of the area, rather than the lone person on the street.
During Wednesday’s Seminar, we looked at approximately twelve of Edward Hopper’s timeless pieces that belong to the Whitney Museum of Art. Hopper’s paintings all exhibit a certain degree of modern realism. He tends to paint characters in everyday poses, except the viewer is looking in from a hidden angle. The spectators are basically outsiders gazing in.
The first painting we looked at was called “American Landscape”. There we see Hopper’s realism come into play, through the regular farmland look. There are bulls, cows, and even some hay. There are some train tracks going between the house and animals. It goes on to represent early or rural America as having a calm and peaceful lifestyle.
When I first read “Ways of Seeing”, I didn’t really think much of it. However, the more we discuss it in class, I begin to see the wisdom behind the words. It actually means much more, once you start to analyze artwork with the book ideas in mind.
The moment I looked at “The Night Interior”, I thought this is a girl who is getting ready for a party that is taking place in the 20’s. However, when Professor Kahan analyzed it with the class, I began to notice the inner details of the picture. We get to make little assumptions about the character through minor details like the uneven colors in her skin tone, which revealed that she was actually struggling to make a living. She seemed alone and living a harsh life. Next I noticed where the viewer was looking in from, and it appeared that we are actually eavesdropping in on a private moment.
After looking at many of Hopper’s paintings, I noticed that he usually painted a lot of urban scenery. Most of his paintings included people, who were specifically placed at strategic places. Edward Hopper painted landscapes where one character often seemed lonely. They seemed bored or tired of the hard life in the city, but in the countryside, life appeared serene. He expressed loneliness in the city during the 1920’s, maybe even expressing the hopelessness during the early Great Depression.
I enjoy it when classes give me a new outlook in life. I am not saying that seminar changed my perspective on life or anything to that extent but it changed the way I see art, again. Last seminar, I realized that I should examine a work of art as a whole, not just the centerpiece (thanks to the Mona Lisa). This seminar, it was clear that factoring social status is significant when gazing at art.
One thing I took out of this class was the idea of social class in art. In order to fully understand this aspect of art, the class examined a photograph of Robert De Niro in a highly recognized event. The actor had multiple features worth talking about, including a fuzzy beard. The fuzzy beard displayed that the actor was not well groomed. However, the fact that he had this beard showed power; someone with as much recognition as Robert De Niro can show up at a formal event and be accepted with a fuzzy beard. I honestly cannot believe how much of an impact that photograph had on me. Every time I see someone famous on television or the internet, I try to see how they display power. The one that hit me the quickest was Lady Gaga, I saw her in a abnormal outfit on a Facebook page and thought, “only she could pull this off.”
The rest of class was a discussion of Edward Hopper’s art collection. I do not want to sound ignorant but I did not enjoy most of the collection. The only painting I liked was “Night Shadows” because it made me feel like I was stalking the person in the picture. There was one painting in his collection we did not get to talk about yet but I hope it intrigues me, at least as much as “Night Shadows.”
As long as I can take one little thing from a class I can be content. Socioeconomics is more relevant in art than I thought and I am glad I see that.