Welcome to The Gallery of the Imagination which is featuring the American Dream.
I’m Alexander Wainwright, a landscape artist from London and I love to wander through all sorts of art galleries. You’ll see in my gallery today the work of two very different artists—Norman Rockwell and Edward Hopper. Each of them has his own personal take on the myth of the American dream.
Rockwell lived from 1894-1978 and found his subject matter in the small towns of the United States. Although his paintings may seem at times too sweetly idealized, he had a more serious and substantive side. But that’s for another time.
Rockwell’s paintings reflect the American Dream perfectly lived. The people are happy and engaged with one another. There’s a wonderful sense of community of families and people coming together. Everyone is living that cherished dream in the here and now and the moment is captured and it speaks for itself. Some might say it is life reflected as a Hallmark Card.
But there is [as there always is,] another side of Rockwell. When he was treated for depression, his psychiatrist told him that he painted his happiness but did not/could not live it. Perhaps Rockwell painted the “public” face of the American Dream. That world is the one we tell ourselves is the real one. It’s like the persona or public face we create for ourselves. It’s how we want to see ourselves and be seen.
Edward Hopper painted the personal, private world which lies beneath the surface of “things”. Somehow his world shows how we really are. He saw a different world even though he lived in the same part of the States and roughly at the same time as did Rockwell. Born in 1882-1967. Hopper lived much of his life in New York City and was greatly inspired by his urban surroundings. Even so, he created many paintings of coastlines and rural scenes.
Hopper and all the figures in his work look inward. In contrast to Rockwell, he is the introvert to Rockwell’s extravert. The figures are reflective, lonely and isolated. There is a tremendous sense of being caught in a moment of reflection where past and future are ever present. A story could be written about what has just happened or what is about to happen in everyone of his pictures.
Hopper was a reader of the writings of Carl Jung and was influenced greatly by ideas of the subconscious and it seems that it was that side of us which he wanted to depict. The introverted artist creates figures seeing or reflecting upon an private, inner life.
Just look at their paintings hanging on that wall. Tell me what strikes you about any of them.
Thanksgiving [or Freedom from Want] shows a family of several generations seated at the dining room table. Doesn’t it speak beautifully of family and ritual—all the little ceremonies of life that give us meaning?
For a stark contrast, just look at Hopper’s Night Hawks which speaks with a quiet eloquence of loneliness and isolation. The figures in that painting seem to crowd about a sputtering little fire hoping to find some warmth.
And then, with Rockwell, there is the policeman and the young boy at the soda fountain in Runaway. In this world, the children look up to and trust authority figures who are kindly and look after them.
Take a look at Hopper’s painting of the young woman seated in a compartment on the train. It looks like there is no friendly policeman in her world to persuade her to return home.
Just look at the Prom Dress painting by Rockwell and then the woman seated on the bed by Hopper. Rockwell’s young woman is preparing for a very exciting and important social event—almost a rite of passage. She is getting ready to fall in love!
Contrast that painting with Hopper’s woman seated on the bed. She is staring intently out the window but you get the strong feeling that her gaze is cast inward. Again the questions! What has happened to make her so isolated and reflective? Or what is about to happen?
What do you make of Rockwell’s painting of a van stuck in an alley especially in contrast to Hopper’s deserted roadway running past the gas station? Community versus isolation?
Rockwell presented the idealized view— the American Dream. In his work, we saw ourselves as we wanted to be—happy, engaged and optimistic. He wasn’t denying that people had a hidden or dark side. In fact, when he received psychiatric treatment, his psychiatrist told him he painted his happiness but could or would not live it.
Hopper presented a different side of people—the inward looking ones, who were driven down into loneliness and despair. A sense of ambiguity permeates his paintings and you feel that something else lies just beneath the surface of his artwork. But isn’t that like human beings—the hidden and revealed life—the public and private.
Two very different artists with two very different representations of the American Dream. Is one representation true and the other false? I don’t think so. They could be two sides of the same coin and together they form the whole. What do you think?
Alexander Wainwright has been your host. It is not always easy to find him, but you definitely can locate him in The Trilogy of Remembrance, for he is the protagonist of all three novels–The Drawing Lesson, The Fate of Pryde and Night Crossing. He hopes you will return the next time he sends you an invitation to The Gallery of the Imagination.
Mary E. Martin is the author of two trilogies: The Osgoode Trilogy, inspired by her many years of law practice; and The Trilogy of Remembrance, set in the glitter and shadows of the art world. Both Trilogies will elevate the reader from the rush and hectic world of today and spin them into realms of yet unimagined intrigue. Be inspired by the newly released and final installment of The Trilogy of Remembrance, Night Crossing.
The seventh novel is not part of either trilogy. Provisionally entitled The Wondrous Apothecary, it is scheduled for publication in early 2018.
Joseph Campbell Foundation has just recently selected the novels of The Trilogy of Remembrance [The Drawing Lesson, The Fate of Pryde and Night Crossing] along with the works of some other authors as novels with mythic themes. I am honoured to be included along with Margaret Atwood, Neil Gaiman, J.R.R. Tolkein and James Joyce in this group. You can find the Joseph Campbell Foundation Amazon page right here.
If you’d like to browse the novels of both trilogies [The Osgoode Trilogy and The Trilogy of Remembrance] please take a look at the carousel below.