This is Nighthawks by Edward Hopper. Its easily one of the most recognized American works of art from the last century. Hopper, who had simple works dating back to 1906-07, has less than 10 released works of art on display. Nighthawks currently resides at The Art Institute of Chicago and was sold to be displayed there in 1942, the same year the painting was completed, for only $3000.1 Its recognizable for how serene it is, the simplistic nature of the colors, the timeless surrounding of the buildings and the fact that people will always be there.
It shows four people: three men and one woman, at a late night diner in, what Edward Hopper called, "a restaurant on New York’s Greenwich Avenue where two streets meet."2 They are nameless. The man and woman may not be married, they may be strangers. The lone man to the left might be an insurance salesman. The soda jerk (if you view a larger image) looks to be just as old as the man and woman. They're not the whole story of the painting. The moment is the story.
The simplicity of the moment: no cars, no entrance to the diner, no neon signs, no one outside hurrying along the sidewalk makes it a serene scene that we can relate to: when all the noise dies down we are left alone with our thoughts, or in the case of the man and woman, someone close. If the diner had existed, it would be a popular tourist attraction. There would be little peace in all the posing and camera works. It would have been diluted among the (I hate to use this word) ignorance of today.
And yet its not without homage and parody. The timelessness has caused it to be crossed with one form of entertainment after another: parodies from That 70s Show, The Simpsons, and of course the many unofficial fan-made digital manipulations all stem from the timelessness of it. The buildings will last, the people will come and go, the sun will rise and people will begin to stir, but eventually it will come back to this calm moment in time.
Despite all that blathering, what Nighthawks means to me is this:
I love this painting because I'm all too familiar with a real life form of it: in the last 10 years I've maybe fallen asleep before midnight less than 50 times, even on nights when I had to work the next morning. A late night of sitting in the glow of a TV or computer screen working on a review or mostly playing video games. A fast food job where the outside world was dark, slow, and only busy on weekends. A night spent talking with friends until the sun came up. Eating a late dinner with family at a restaurant. Its these calm moments I treasure amid the chaos of the day.
Even as I look at it, I know someone else out there can see it, relate to it, and appreciate it in ways that I don't even comprehend. But I'm not an art major, so I have no idea what I'm talking about. We all need to appreciate at least one work of art in our lives, and this is mine.