“Art is in the eye of the beholder.” You’ve heard that. Margaret Wolfe Hungerford said it, and I thank her. I have very strong opinions about art, and sometimes they differ from the canonical viewpoint. One example is the painting “Nighthawks” by Edward Hopper. When I see this work I see joy. You’ve seen the painting, even if you don’t recognize the title or the name of the artist. It shows an old-fashioned counter in a diner late at night, curved glass window displaying the men and women inside like so many pastries. The waiter, white paper hat atop his head, pours coffee from a steel urn for a couple sitting together. A lone man sits off to the side. The critics use this painting as shorthand for desolation of the soul, the isolation of the individual in the built environment. I see it differently.
I see a gathering of night people, together yet alone, enjoying the comfortable company of others. There is no need to talk. They sit framed by the curve of the window, and though the urban environment outside their door is beautiful, they are turned inward toward the light, defying a world that tells them it is time to sleep. The round stools arc around the counter in a display of fluidity and grace. This painting makes me happy, and I doubt I’m the only one. I don’t think it has reached iconic status solely as a documentation of despair and loneliness.
This is one of the magical things about art, about writing, about humanity in general. Since I bring myself and all of my perceptions to anything I experience, I always get a customized version of the material at hand. My “Nighthawks” is not your “Nighthawks.” I hate “The Wasteland” by T.S. Eliot. You may think it’s the best thing ever written. Joy lies hidden around us, and we all keep it in different places. No one can use it up.
This diversity of taste also means that I do not need to worry about my audience as I create. My writing will not please everyone, and my art will not thrill without exception. I need only to amuse myself. That’s pretty easy to do.
Your assignment, should you choose to accept it:
14. Create something to amuse yourself—a poem, a drawing, a pot of soup. Enjoy it.