If you could say it in words there would be no reason to paint.- Edward Hopper

I've been trying to write a post about going to see a painting show in Northern Vermont, Edward Hopper in Vermont, for what feels like weeks. I just can't formulate something to say about it exactly. Not that is was bad by any means, but it felt really limited in a way? Seeing Hopper's work isolated to these few landscapes, often dotted with Maple groves and sugarhouses, barns and sloping mountains, wispy clouds and flowing streams, made me agitated: what about his other work? How would someone looking at this begin to comprehend how different these images are from what he is known for- gas stations, diners, windowshades? But then, upon being a little agitated by the lack of formal comparison, I started to think deeper: is there really a difference? Do his cityscapes and landscapes, his renderings of pastoral or the urban, change the painter? Do they change what he is doing, conveying? Is being unable to describe what I saw a shortfall of the work? A shortfall of my "work?" No. Not at all. And then this train of thought began a long and winding internet search into a thing I've been really preoccupied with lately: what do we look at when we look at art? Stick with me guys, I'll try to make it un-boring! I might even mention something you like! Like.... um, hmm...zombies? Do kids still like zombies? To self: How the hell am I gonna deliver zombies...?

This interview with Hopper, which is pretty bad but capped by him reading two very important texts from his career, made me start to see how the artist sees his work.

"Great art is the outward expression of an inner life in the artist, and this inner life will result in his personal vision of the world. No amount of skillful invention can replace the essential element of imagination." 1953, Reality magazine

Here Hopper realizes that what he is making is not a depiction of reality, it is a depiction of HIS reality. The way he feels about a subject is inherent in the way he renders it, even if techniques are copied or the same paint used, it is our own eyes and brains that create the mood of an image...the feeling of space through forms and light. And this is where things get tricky for me!

I noticed in Hopper's paintings of Vermont, some even made in the very hamlet I live in (!), that shape and light are used nearly identically to how he uses them in his urbanscapes (gasp! C'mon! This is neat guys! ZOMBIES! Eh..?!). Hopper sees geometric shapes and light pouring off of them, light that he also tends to portray in a very formal way (as opposed to a wishy washy haze or glow of Impressionists), in a way mimicking the gridded layout of the budding cities he painted...but, these geometric forms are also present in the nature he encountered as well. Hopper dissects a mountain, and even more so the human endeavors cutting into the pastoral scene, through his geometry-addled brain and his own perception (or impression? or his own wants? and desires? I mean, who knows if the light really looked like that...and even then, if he was attempting a real expression it is still his own perception of said light which, as we know, lies to us all the time!): Hopper's way of seeing is inherent across his subjects. So then, what does this mean?

My aim in painting has always been the most exact transcription possible of my most intimate impressions of nature...The trend in some of the contemporary movements in art, but by no means all, seems to deny this ideal and to me appears to lead to a purely decorative conception of painting... 1933 Notes on Painting MoMA catalogue

Thank goodness Hopper isn't around to see Jay-Z rapping about Picasso and how awesome it would look in his "casa"....Hopper saw himself as a sort of recorder of history, a person exploring and documenting how he, as a man of his time, surrounded by the world of his time, tuned into his particular history: he saw these shapes because they were the shapes being made, he saw the light this way because it was the way it looked ot him pouring off of this new style of architecture and life.

...I believe that the great painters with their intellect as master have attempted to force this unwilling medium of paint and canvas into a record of their emotions. I find any digression from this large aim leads me to boredom...In its most limited sense, modern, art would seem to concern itself only with the technical innovations of the period. In its larger, and to me irrevocable, sense, it is the art of all time of definite personalities that remain forever modern by the fundamental truth that is in them. Notes on Painting

So, painters paint how they feel! Yes, yes they do! What else would they do? Painters create a mood, an atmosphere, that we are confronted with as we stare into the natty canvas smeared with oils. When we look at a painting is it the shapes alone that move us? Not really...it is the person behind those shapes that configured them that we sense. I still fucking remember seeing Guernica as a wee little kid- just a photo- and feeling the eerie, raw turmoil of inequality in the seemingly simplistic triangles of contrasting grey, white, & black pigment...the figures and their feelings, and our progressive endeavors to capture them, are our own history that is more accurate than any written account.

Ok, so I didn't mention zombies...but I mentioned Jay-Z, did that keep you here? I hope so! I guess I had such a hard time formulating this post- I mean it was just paintings, small, watercolors of trees for goodness sake!- because of where it- they, the paintings- took me. Culture is the record of feeling and history that we leave behind. Culture can be science, writing, painting, film, even sports (hate sports)- it is like a folk history that we create in order to express all facets of lives as we live them- feelings, media, events, change, that each generation, and hell, each person, experiences differently. Recording our lives so as to convey, perpetuate, improve, warn and love the future...a legacy that I feel like the art world (See above regarding Jay-Z and the trendy commercialization of status symbol, design element art) and all the other money driven media has been chipping away at lately. Remove the money and we have a beautiful history of the complicated world. And THAT is why I write this blog. And that is why Hopper's unassuming barn slanted atop a small hill that he sat in his car sketching, that he chose to take down as a documentation of it being there in that time and place, with his eyes upon it, is still looked upon by our eyes, and will continue to be gazed at in awe, as artifact, for future generations.



Donna K. lives in the Midwest and on the internet. Mostly she writes about her interest in the offline world.