What is The New Yorker? I know it’s a great magazine and that it’s a tremendous source of pleasure in my life. But what exactly is it? This blog’s premise is that The New Yorker is a work of art, as worthy of comment and analysis as, say, Keats’s “Ode on a Grecian Urn.” Each week I review one or more aspects of the magazine’s latest issue. I suppose it’s possible to describe and analyze an entire issue, but I prefer to keep my reviews brief, and so I usually focus on just one or two pieces, to explore in each the signature style of its author. A piece by Nick Paumgarten is not like a piece by Dana Goodyear, and neither is like a piece by Ian Frazier. One could not mistake Finnegan for Friend, or Bilger for Lepore, or Collins for Khatchadourian. Each has found a style, and it is that style that I respond to as I read, and want to understand and describe.

Thursday, July 25, 2013

The Whitney's "Hopper Drawing"

Edward Hopper, New York Movie, 1939

Artists studies, like writers drafts, afford fascinating glimpses of the creative process. The exhibition “Hopper Drawing,” at the Whitney Museum of American Art, which can be visited online, thrillingly provides just such a view. As Peter Schjeldahl says, in “Between the Lines” (The New Yorker, July 8 & 15, 2013), it “lets us into the factory of hand and mind that created ‘Nighthawks,’ ‘New York Movie,’ ‘Early Sunday Morning,’ ‘Office at Night,’ and other touchstones for which ‘iconic’ is praise too faint.” For example, it shows how New York Movie (1939) – my favorite Hopper – evolved from fifty-four drawings of, among other details, the stairs, the column, the theatre, the movie-viewers, and – most interestingly – the usherette. John Updike, in his great “Hoppers Polluted Silence” (included in his Still Looking, 2007), calls her “the golden-haired usherette” (“a golden-haired usherette, in strapped high heels and pseudo-military uniform, much more glamorous than the dowdy girl he carefully sketched”). How did the “dowdy girl” become the “golden-haired usherette”? Hopper transformed her. This is the fascinating aspect of the Whitney show. Although it brings us transfixingly close to Hopper’s creative process, it can’t explain how Hopper conceived certain images. The barber pole in Early Sunday Morning (1930), “leaning as if the sunlight were a gale trying to flatten it,” in Schjeldahl’s memorable description (“Edward Hopper: Selections from the Permanent Collection,” The 7 Days Art Columns, 1990); the pull cord of the shade in Office at Night (1940), “one of the choicest details in art history,” says Schjeldahl, in “Ordinary People” (The New Yorker, May 21, 2007) – these are aspects of Hopper’s work that the studies don’t even hint at. What it comes down to is Hopper’s own subjectivity – his inspiration, his genius. As Schjeldahl says, in “Between the Lines,” “What he was getting at – slight but profound epiphanies of ordinary life – could yield only to paint, and only to him.” 

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