With the changing seasons and darker days, I’ve found myself looking a lot at works I feel are quite therapeutic and hold pleasant memories. One of the first things that ever really got me into art as a kid was this old game that I would play with my family, Masterpiece. Now my dad was never an art buff, but this game held memories for him as much as it does for me now, and we always had a good family discourse about some of our favorite pieces. For as long as I can remember, I’ve always associated him with Nighthawks, painted by Edward Hopper.
Even though this was painted in the forties, there is something so timeless and charming about it. I don’t know if it’s the lighting, or the charming quality of the diner, but for me, it seems to perfectly capture the late-night feeling of 6 pm on a Wednesday in December since the sun went down at 4:30 and the day already seems long gone. The three customers and the waiter inside of this diner all come together both lost in thought, and somehow also present in the moment. The possibilities are endless as to what comes after, but for now, we can look in on a peaceful moment charged with opportunity. The fluorescent lights in a dark city, the emptiness of the diner, and the lack of a visual entrance all isolate the figures within, creating a sense of separateness from the city surrounding the diner. In Hopper’s words, he unconsciously “…was painting the loneliness of a large city.”
This quality of isolation, in my opinion, is what makes the piece so timeless. There is not one person on this earth who has never felt alone, even in a context associated with such large amounts of people, such as New York City. However, we are all alone together-whether it’s random other people in a diner, or everyone experiencing a global pandemic, there’s at least one other person in your situation at any given moment. Perhaps it’s just my fond memories that make this painting comforting, but I also find comfort, oddly enough, in Hopper’s presentation of isolation. Often when we see isolation in art, it’s painful and jarring–The Scream comes to mind. But here, it’s calm and quiet. In such a trying time in New York, with WW2 and the rapid modernization of the city, these four people have come together in their loneliness and isolation. They may not be bonding through conversation, but they have found a way to relate by simply being alone, together. Despite the fact that 80 years have passed, people still find a way to be alone together. While it might not be in a fluorescent diner in the dead of New York City, we still find our way to this companionship through the internet, through books and movies, and instead of diners now it’s the coffeeshops on the corner-or the Starbucks inside of Barnes and Noble. Hopper may not have intentionally painted this quality, but he certainly succeeded in it anyway. The comfort here lies in the sheer humanity of the subject matter… or maybe it’s just the fact it’ll remind you all of my dad now.