Archive for August 23rd, 2020


You won’t learn anything about existentialism in this post, existentialism being the de rigueur ism to bring up when you need to sound smart in a conversation about modern art.

Instead of being smart, let’s play a game.  Let’s imagine you stumbled upon an exhibit at, say, the Indianapolis Museum of Art, where the paintings of Lionel Feininger (1871-1956) and Edward Hopper (1882-1967) were shown side by side. (That’s a game good museums actually like to play, which is what makes them so exiting to go to.  At the Art Institute of Chicago, for example, paintings are moved around frequently so that you can see a familiar painting next to new neighbors and therefore gain new insights without anyone lecturing you about anything.)


Feininger was a prolific artist, who early in his career worked figuratively, even as a caricaturist and cartoonist,  and later tended to work with linear forms in his compositions.  In the 1920’s, when Hopper was visiting Europe, Feininger was teaching at the Bauhaus, first in Weimar and then in Dessau.  There’s no chance that they met, given Hopper’s disinterest in modern art.

No matter.  They were contemporaries, working with architectural forms in their paintings. It’s only fair to put them side by side.

The first thing you notice is the figure in the Hopper painting.  Now try to imagine the painting without the figure.


It doesn’t hold your attention, does it?

Look at some Feininger compositions.  Do they need a human figure to grab you?  No. These compositions are engaging and absorbing as they are.


Hopper seems to be primarily interested in geometrical patterns, but because what he comes up with is flat, hard-edged and obvious, he adds a figure to focus your attention.  The figure inevitably looks isolated and alienated, which makes for a facile match with existentialist jargon.

new-york-office copy


All contents copyright (C) 2010 Katherine Hilden. All rights reserved.





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Film noir is defined as “a style or genre of cinematographic film marked by a mood of pessimism, fatalism, and menace.”

The central characters in film noir are often gangsters, detectives and a femme fatale.

Hopper’s paintings are also characterized by “a mood of pessimism, fatalism, and menace.”

Nighthawks, 1942, is his most famous painting.  (The Art Institute of Chicago snatched it up as soon as its paint was dry and it is, along with Grant Wood’s American Gothic, one of the reasons people go to the AI.)

It’s not a Norman Rockwell family scene, is it?  Two guys in fedoras and a skinny redhead in a red dress, smokin’ and drinkin’ coffee way past midnight.  What kind of characters are these?  A gangster, a gum shoe and a dame?  Sounds about right to me.

Film noir drew them in from the late 20’ to the 50’s.  The look of the genre became stylized and predictable. When any art is worked out according to a formula, it can only crank out material for so long before it invites satire and parody.

As does Hopper:





Ten years after Nighthawk, Edward Hopper was still working with his wooden, predictable formula.  Here’s Morning Sun from 1952 and a parody I gleaned from the internet.






All contents copyright (C) 2010 Katherine Hilden. All rights reserved.





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