Teaching with Contemporary Art

Getting Schooled at Hopper House

This work is about the way light shapes things when “cut” by physical obstructions.- Isadora Rosenbloom

A few weeks ago I wrote a post (public therapy, actually) about my anxiety as I organized a student exhibit at Hopper House here in New York. The seventeen artists who participated were each asked to choose a work by Edward Hopper and create a new piece in response to being inspired by the artist. Students were even told in advance that a small reproduction of the painting they chose would hang alongside their work, as well as a short narrative or quote they would write upon completion.

This week I want to share some of the works that were created as part of the show, “Reasons to Paint”. Hopper once said that if it could be said in words, there would be no reason to paint. And while many of the seventeen artists chose to indeed respond in painting, others chose photography and even mixed media. Here is a sampling of works from the show, which runs through December 24th :

In this photograph I wanted to explore the extreme contrasts of light found in Hopper paintings.- Nikolai Stern

This work is based on a photograph of my great grandmother in the backyard of her home in Johnstown, Pennsylvania. I chose this Hopper painting for inspiration because I wanted to focus on controlling the value of light and work with how Hopper places a solitary individual in his pieces.- Matthew Nilan

This work is about someone who is emotionally overwhelmed due to social isolation. I thought it might be challenging to take Hopper’s use of body language and show what the model may look like internally.- Brittany Petronella

Dana Swann, one of the featured artists, with her Mom and yours truly.

Some of the things I learned putting together this show include:

  1. You cannot underestimate the value of students having plenty of experience drawing the figure and working from the human form. It’s such excellent training but often gets labeled as “too difficult” or simply “covered” through a unit on gesture drawing. Figure drawing is about more than learning proportion. It’s about slowing down and seeing in order to draw.
  2. Group shows need close monitoring as you work towards completion in order to form a cohesive exhibition. Surprises as you get close to the opening should be avoided at all costs.
  3. You cannot underestimate the value of sharing (and teaching) what strong composition looks like.
  4. Creating an exhibit like this is a way to uncover an artist (Acquavella Gallery did this in a similar way with the recent Georges Braque show. They absolutely uncovered Braque for me). Through the process of putting together this exhibit, for example, I noticed the marvelous parallels between George Segal and Edward Hopper’s silent figures.


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