More Art Lessons from the Four Legged Master

Edward Hopper, Gas, oil on canvas

Isabella hiding in flower pot in my garden 9/10/09

Above are examples of high and low art (I'll leave it to the viewer to decide which is which). In the earlier post this week "Why Insight Is More Like a Cat Than a Dog" I ask how an artist gets good ideas. Yesterday I was walking out of my house to go to a wedding and ran across the acknowledged master of these deeper questions, my neighbor's cat Isabella.

She usually hides behind the tree that holds up my bird feeder. But recently she's taken to skulking in my neighbor's flower pot in her quest for little bird canapes. She does it for hours on end. If she's patient enough and keeps her eyes open it works. The other masterpiece pictured above is by Edward Hopper. It depicts a gas station at dusk on the old route 6 highway that threads up the forested middle of Cape Cod. Hopper drove an old Buick and, gas guzzler that it no doubt was, refueling it gave him time to day dream.

There are actually two old gas stations in near Hopper's old town of Truro, MA that he must have frequented. Both are still there though one now lies long abandoned. Hopper sort of mentally collaged them together to arrive at his version. While standing there breathing in the fossil fuel bouquet, he pictured in his mind how the elements of the scene could be re-assembled- the oncoming glow of electric light, the slowly diminishing twilight, the dense and slightly haunted woods parted by the asphalt, and a thin balding man addressing the human-scaled gas pump. It became in the his imagination a reverie on a whole cavalcade of themes- of living, time, night and mystery.

Where Hopper is like the cat I think is he just went about his business day in and day out. He probably didn't often hide in bushes hoping to snatch unsuspecting birds, though I can't find anything in the art historical literature on this point. But when he was doing something seemingly unrelated, like filling his gas tank, he somehow stayed open to the poetic possibilities of the experience. Poetic is a fancy sounding word I don't much care for. It means something has an unexpected ability to make you sense an emotion who weren't looking for.
Hopper took the most ordinary seeming of activities and shows us an extraordinary side to the experience. Like our friend Isabella, he kept his eyes open. But Hopper also kept open his inner painter's eye that could see the possibilities everyone else had overlooked in their hurry to get on with things.


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