Lessons Learned from Wyeth, Hopper and Edith Halpert

I am not a huge fan of biographies or autobiographies. I always found them...boring. Man, it feels good just to say it. I’ve been holding that opinion inside for far too long due to the fear of what others would think.

More often than not, you will find my nose buried in a fictional story. I love reading for pleasure and biographies really didn’t feed my imagination the way a good science fiction or fantasy story could. But something changed this past year. I started to realize I was missing something very important in my professional career...a foundational understanding of the greats who have gone before me. How could I expect to become a better artist if I didn’t spend some time getting to know the amazing artists who I admire and copied for years?

Since I am very familiar with the work of Andrew Wyeth and Edward Hopper, I started with their stories and then I added a little known name to me...Edith Halpert, a famous gallery owner in NYC during the early years of American Art.

To my surprise, these books were fascinating and I ate them up! I learned about each artist’s work, the progression of their styles and the meaning behind their pieces as well as all the circumstances and surrounding people that influenced their journey.

I thought I would walk away with just more art knowledge and maybe some good ideas about what to do and what not to do as an artist, but I came away with so much more. Life lessons that will influence not just my work but my day to day life as a wife, mother, and woman.

Edith Halpert Lesson--Don’t let your work come first. Edit Halpert was an incredible business woman. Tenacious, smart and driven. As I read her story, I noticed many similarities in our personalities. The good and the bad. As Edith reached the end of her life, she had amassed a fortune, and influenced countless artists and collectors. In essence, she single-handedly changed the face of art in America, but she died completely alone and isolated because she pushed away everyone who loved her. Relationships took away from her work and her work was everything to her. The end of this biography almost brought me to tears as I realized the huge mistake this amazing woman made. A mistake I could easily make if I am not careful. She traded relationships for her work. But her work couldn’t hold her hand as she grew more and more senile and paranoid with age. Her work couldn’t quietly encourage her as her abilities to work lessened and lessened. Her work couldn’t protect her from the cruel acquaintances that saw her growing dementia and took advantage of her wealth. We need people and unfortunately, Edith Halpert learned that lesson far too late. I certainly don’t want to make the same mistake.

Andrew Wyeth Lesson--Stay true to your passion. One of the resounding lessons from the life of Andrew Wyeth is to stick with what you know and what you are passionate about. Andrew saw his father start to sacrifice his style and favorite subject matter in order to pay the bills and get more work. His father withered as an artist later in his life and Andrew paid close attention. Instead of changing his work for the masses and commercial pressure, he followed what he loved. He decided to pursue egg tempera painting, which was completely different from his very popular watercolors and everyone fussed and fussed at him to not do it. He didn’t listen to them, he listened to his heart and

his passion, and because of that, his work remained strong and continued to grow and develop in astounding ways. Whether he painted spontaneous, energetic watercolors or detailed temperas, his work was loved and collected because it came from his heart.

Edward Hopper Lesson--Don’t be ruled by your emotions. The beauty of Hopper’s work is easily seen without knowing his life, but it is deepened when you start to understand him a bit better. He was first an illustrator and this greatly influenced his paintings. He was also highly emotional, suffering from various bouts of depression. He had a very tumultuous relationship with his wife, Josephine, often having physical altercations with her. Both of them were fire balls of hot emotions and these feelings sent them both on a wild roller coaster ride. Hopper let his emotional state affect his work quite a bit. If he didn’t feel like painting, he didn’t. There were several years in his career where he would only create one or two paintings a year. Compared to the times when he was not dealing with depression, this is a pretty meager number. Emotions are not necessarily a bad thing. Feelings can help to create amazing works of art, but when you are ruled by them, much can be missed. There is a balance and I hope I can achieve that and not make the same mistake that Hopper did. I hope that if I find myself in a place of debilitating emotions that paralyze my work, I will be brave and humble enough to get the help I need so I can overcome the storm. (This is a whole other part of my story I will share some day.)

If you want to read more about these interesting folks, you can read their stories:

Girl with a Gallery

Andrew Wyeth: A Secret Life

A Silent Theater: Edward Hopper

What lessons have you learned from the “Greats” you have read about? I would love to hear!

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