First off, I listened to the majority of the podcasts posted and was roundly impressed by the insightful, articulate contemplation that these “high school students” expressed (even if it took 50 attempts). Whether I agreed with their analysis or not, I listened, left a tip and walked away a little bit jealous.
The one that I’d like to respond to was May Geolot’s interpretation of Edward Hopper’s Cape Cod Morning. For several reasons; one, I had just finished reading a feminist blog by one of my friends that referenced a NY Post article stating Barack Obama would be our first woman President and then naturally gravitated toward the 2007 theme “Representations of Femininity in Art” (which was never explicitly entertained in this podcast); two, I miss Cape Cod in the summer with its baking sun, ice-cream counters, cool breezes and low humidity; three, Edward Hopper rang a bell; and four, Princeton was my first choice!
Sitting in a stuffy room as the sun sinks beneath the bottom branches of the oak tree out front with an empty bowl of ice cream and … now empty bottle of wine, Hopper’s earnest indulgences feel like the punch-line of a Sunday morning sermon. Hallelujah! I hear you, brother. Cheers. I’ll get the litany out of the way; alienation, loneliness, detachment, isolation. It is overwhelming, and, in that “misery loves company” sense, comforting. Born contemporaries, Hopper courts Dr. Seuss while Norman Rockwell dances with Disney. Both give us a different version of American life; “normal” scenes but witnessed through different eyes. Both are safe, nostalgic, simple and highly emotional. But while Rockwell gives pot-luck answers to his audience, Hopper asks tough questions that have no obvious answers.
With art being about the expression of a world seen through the eyes of an individual, which may (if they eventually become “known”) one day resonate with a multitude of other individuals, Edward Hopper very consciously sacrifices himself before this eager Bethesda student and to the rest of the world. However, what really gets me, is that his paintings are not only confessions of self-expression but also brilliant works of social commentary, bending those ever-present beams of light inward to expose the shadowy insecurities that catch us all and hold our attention in those quiet moments of contemplation we don’t get enough of (or take the time for) any longer. They tell a story that has no ending and only a faintly insinuated moral or purpose. They conjur the sentiments of Thoreau, who some would call a sociopath and who once claimed, "I've never met a companion as companionable as solitude."
There is a great range of sociability which shifts with cultural movements, whereas today someone could claim 700 Facebook friends or a full inbox without ever making the time for (or consciously desiring) meaningful connections that extend beyond these superficial high-fives. Longer work hours, growing commutes, cell-phone and email relationships make us simultaneously more and less “connected”. With Hopper’s dynamic of urban (technological?) isolation, or, in the case of Cape Cod Morning, a solitary figure overwhelmed and caught between two contrasting empty spaces, we see this same ironic juxtaposition of socialization and compassion. A woman half inside and half outside. Is the light that shines in her face filled with internal “rejuvenation and hope” (as Geolot the Tiger feels) or is it taunting the same way a warm hearth would appeal to a homeless beggar gazing through the window of stranger’s home while standing outside in the cold? There is an essential difference between solitude and loneliness, between Thoreau and, oh, The Bachelor, where one is disciplined and self-imposed while the other is forced and suffocating. Hopper delicately sits on this fence. He gives you glass-less windows that either paint a picture of possibilities or show you how much greener the grass will always be.
Interesting, particularly if meant as a “representation of femininity”. What would he have done without Jo?