Sometimes I discover art, literature, or music I like that was there in popular culture all throughout my life but for whatever shallow forgettable reason I never gave it a chance. The work of American realist painter Edward Hopper is one striking example of that.
A poster of the above painting Nighthawks hangs in many college freshman dorms, which somehow makes it more challenging to like. I saw it a long time ago in Chicago, and was not particularly impressed. But last month I noticed it again, and was profoundly moved. Something about the mix of city-lit night, the cheap diner, the hopelessly overdressed couple, the anonymity of the man sitting alone…
For me, it captures the ups and downs of solitude and the introspective peace of city life. Obviously, the strongest connection I feel at this time is with the man sitting alone. The couple in this painting fades almost immediately, as if they are just another piece of furniture.
Hopper has opened my eyes to the ability of realism to have extract metaphysical depth from the mundane.
Above and to the right are a couple more examples of his ability to capture the balance between the burden and the lightness of life in an individualist society. Above is Hotel Room. To the right is Cape Cod Morning.
A few months ago, I read Going Solo: The Extraordinary Rise and Surprising Appeal of Living Alone by Eric Klinenberg which careful telling of the story behind the following simple statistic:
- 50 years ago, 70% of adults were married.
- Today, 51% of adults are married.
The trend is even more stark in the number of single occupant households. It went from 20% fifty years ago to 40-60% in many major cities across America and the world today.
Klinenberg interviewed more than 300 people, and one of the more interesting conclusion he arrived at is that being single is no longer a taboo. In a 1957 University of Michigan study, 80% of those surveyed believe that people who preferred being unmarried were “sick”, “immoral”, or “neurotic”. This degree of spite has disappeared in today’s public discourse about marriage and single life.
For the most part, the rise in percentage of singletons is explained by the fact that people marry later in life. Median age of first marriage for men went from 22 years old in the 50’s to 28 years old today. For women it was 20 years old in the 50’s and is 26 years old today.
As is often the case, the options provided by the increasing prosperity of the modern world has it’s pluses and minuses. It’s much easier to be happy when choices are limited.
The following is a lecture by the author of Going Solo given at Google: