A New Day and Night

November 17, 2010

Edward Hopper’s painting Nighthawks seems to be fitting of the mood and atmosphere of this time period. There is a sense of realism for nothing is blatantly abstract but this does not mean that there is no surreal or ethereal quality to the work. This painting uses clean lines and small details to give this setting a realistic quality. The artist is true to shadows and is very mindful of the effect the light from the diner has on its outside surroundings. Even with this precision, however, the painting also has a dream like quality that can only be explained by the grainy texture of the paint. This graininess is most likely due to the effects of the light and it serves to emphasize the artificiality of the light source. This bright light does not belong at this time of day and so it washes over everything it touches, giving most of the painting a slightly hazy feel to it. The inside of the café is set apart from the rest of the world due to the power of electricity and light making it a haven for the three customers inside. Even with this brightness, however, there is a somber quality to the painting because of the expressions of the patrons. While nightlife is usually associated with energy and liveliness, the people of this painting are nowhere near energetic. Much like the old man described in Hemingway’s “A Clean Well-Lighted Place,” these customers also seem to be deep in thought and sitting quietly as if afraid to disturb the sleeping world around them. There is great darkness outside the café and these patrons may be wary of the night they will have to face once they do decide to leave.

The circadian rhythm refers to the 24 hour cycle of biological processes that all livings things are subjected to. There is 24 hours to a full day and people were evolved to perform certain biological tasks, like eating and sleeping, according to this 24 hour cycle. According to this cycle, people would sleep when the sun went down and wake up at sunrise. This was a pretty consistent way of living for generations upon generations of people until the advent of electricity and light. Now, people were no longer tied down by the movement of the sun but instead had a constant and ready source of light whenever they needed it. Sleeping at night became an option and not a necessity. This sort of change was unprecedented and changed the very way people have been living since the birth of man. Such a grand change might have taken some getting used to and it is not surprising that people struggled with accepting this new and unnatural change. It is these feelings of uncertainty that comes from discovering something so new that is reflected upon Hopper’s painting.

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