A Genius Hack

Hopper: So Bad He's Good

The Daily Pic: Edward Hopper's paintings are worse than his drawings – which makes them better.

08.05.13 8:01 PM ET

This is a study for Edward Hopper’s “Office at Night", from 1940, and the finished painting based on it, as paired in the Hopper drawings show now at the Whitney Museum in New York. The oohing and aahing around this show seems all about Hopper’s skills as a draughtsman, but it’s pretty clear that by the commercial-art standards of his time (or even of ours) those skills were fair to middling. His work only becomes interesting when he transfers his drawings to paint, where his technique was quite simply absent. But it’s that absence of quality – the same absence of culural value that we see in his banal office or diner or other subjects – that makes his paintings unique to him, and to his place and moment. He needs to display a level of skill that brings him closer to an American sign-painter than to a French academician. 

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