Monday, March 6, 2017

Art Talk: A Discussion of Edward Hopper's "Nighthawks" #APLitChat #SOL17 Day 6

"Nighthawks" (1942) by Edward Hopper via Wiki Images 
Each Sunday evening a group of AP Literature and Compositions gather on Twitter to discuss texts and ideas that bring us together as  a community of teachers preparing students for the annual AP Literature and Composition exam. 

Sunday's chat featured a "reading" of Edward Hopper's "Nighthawks" and is one of the most fruitful chats I've attended. Susan Barber (@susanclaireb) led the discussion, but Brian Sztabnik (@TalksWithTeachers) founded #APLitChat. 

Each chat begins with a Warm Up (WU) question; this week's WU inquired about our favorite piece of art or artist. I mentioned Picasso's "Guernica," which I will be writing about later this month. And since Brian mentioned his love of Salvador Dali, I shared a photo of Dali's Girl in a Window," which I saw at the Museo Reina Sophia during my recent trip to Madrid. 
"Figure at a Window" by Salvador Dali (1925)
Original photo of the painting.
Once the discussion commenced in earnest, we chatted about perspective (point of view), technique (angles, lines, movement), tone, and theme in Hopper's painting. 

For me the highlights of #APLitChat include learning my colleagues' thoughts about a text and seeing if their ideas harmonize with my own. Hopper's painting suggests isolation and loneliness in the midst of occupying space with others. 

Other than reading a text prior to discussion, I don't study up for #APLitChat. I often join the chat with no idea of the topic, and I've never used Hopper's painting in class. The chat Sunday reminded me that I need to infuse more art into my AP Lit and Comp class. 

However, I did note the absence of traditional plot and narrative structure in the painting after Susan asked where the "event" would appear on a plot line. Additionally, we discussed other texts with which we'd pair the painting. I thought of "All the Lonely People" by America, and someone mentioned "Bad Romance" by Lady Gaga. Hemingway, Fitzgerald, and Salinger are among the authors whose works my fellow AP Lit and Comp colleagues would pair with the Hopper painting. 

Finally, some folks shared some amazing resources, which I have saved in my Diigo account for later use. I gleaned a lesson plan on Hopper's painting, a couple of articles about visual literacy and using art to teach critical thinking. 

The chat spawned a lot of thought, including ideas about additional poetry I could use with "Nighthawks" and ways I can modify a poetry unit into the senior project my students most complete, and after the chat I found a good Kahn Academy video about the painting that would be a nice conclusion to a class discussion. 

Hopper paints an image of isolation in modern America, but through PD on Twitter and #APLitChat, teaching feels a lot less lonely and a lot more congenial.

Further Thoughts on "Nighthawks"

"Nighthawks" is on display at the Art Institute of Chicago, which offers the following commentary on it: 

Edward Hopper said that Nighthawks was inspired by “a restaurant on New York’s Greenwich Avenue where two streets meet,” but the image—with its carefully constructed composition and lack of narrative—has a timeless, universal quality that transcends its particular locale. One of the best-known images of twentieth-century art, the painting depicts an all-night diner in which three customers, all lost in their own thoughts, have congregated. Hopper’s understanding of the expressive possibilities of light playing on simplified shapes gives the painting its beauty. Fluorescent lights had just come into use in the early 1940s, and the all-night diner emits an eerie glow, like a beacon on the dark street corner. Hopper eliminated any reference to an entrance, and the viewer, drawn to the light, is shut out from the scene by a seamless wedge of glass. The four anonymous and uncommunicative night owls seem as separate and remote from the viewer as they are from one another. (The red-haired woman was actually modeled by the artist’s wife, Jo.) Hopper denied that he purposefully infused this or any other of his paintings with symbols of human isolation and urban emptiness, but he acknowledged that in Nighthawks “unconsciously, probably, I was painting the loneliness of a large city.”

9 comments:

  1. So neat - I can't imagine the energy you have for teaching, writing, musing, discussing...not to mention all the rest of life...so cool to find your blog through Amy Krouse Rosenthal's piece in the Times this past weekend. Heartache over losing AKR...but the sense that things are still and will continue to grow from all her work.

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    1. Thanks, Rachel. It seems these days the best voices are silenced too soon.

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  2. I am very impressed that you have regular discussions about AP Lit! What an energetic group of teachers. I look at that Hopper picture and immediately think of the movie "Diner" - 1959 Baltimore, college kids coming of age...I love that movie!

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    1. I've been doing a lot of thinking about that Hopper painting. It certainly speaks to detached isolation. I don't know if I've seen the movie "Diner," but it's certainly one I'll try to find.

      And the AKR story is heartbreaking. So much sadness these days.

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  3. And through these comments I learn about Amy Krouse Rosenthal, and I am devastated. I love her children's books, they are core books each year in my class. Her letter introducing her husband has left me a puddle.

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  4. This is wonderful! It's interesting that you mentioned "Guernica" because my 6th graders read an article about Picasso on NEWSELA as a follow-up to a read aloud we did by Shelley Pearsall called The Seven Most Important Things. It's a novel that centers around a piece of art. We started reading about artists and what we think they define art as. It inspired a lot of great discussion. I LOVE the idea pairing songs with pieces of art and trying to figure out where the painting would go on a plot line. Wow. I teach gifted 6th graders, and I think they could do this kind of thinking. Thank you for sharing this!

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    1. If you like "Guernica," you might like the book "And Picasso Painted Guernica." It'a a "picture" book w/ a fold-out of the painting in the center. Photos weren't allowed or I'd have many! I'm definitely hunting down The Seven Most Important Things.

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  5. Your posts always make me want to teach high school - you take your kids to such depths of thinking and meaning making.

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    1. That's such a kind comment, Tara. In truth, the kids create the depth in the class. Many are brilliant, and we have wonderful discussions mostly based on their observations and questions.

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