Edward Hopper’s search for ideal forms

One of the remarkable things about the work of Edward Hopper is that his style makes his paintings so immediately recognisable. In developing this characteristic style, Hopper is exploring Plato’s ideal form through a series of recurrent images. In many cases, he does this through the structuring of the paintings but in some other paintings, he does this through the relationship between the people in his paintings and the flow of time and events around them.

His paintings of the yachts off the coast of Massachusetts all have a similar prospective. The painter stands back and sees the yacht located in the broad seascape which is layered into the coastline and the skyline in the background.


Groundswell is an interesting combination of classic Hopper seascape structure with strong horizontal lines but it also combines a theme from many other paintings where a group of people gazing at something that the viewer cannot see.


Lee Shore is also an interesting combination of ideas with the stylised yacht sailing past an equally stylised house of the type that Hopper so frequently painted.  It is also an exploration of the point between the landscape and the seascape with the yacht in the house occupying immediately adjacent spaces.


Mary McKeen


The Long Leg  is structurally very similar to Mary McKeen. The yacht is located on the water in the foreground, there is a strip of land in the mid-ground and sky in the background.

In many of Hopper’s urban and rural landscapes, elements of his thematic and stylistic unity is clearly visible. In the following examples, it is the structural stratification of the painting that is so noticeable.  There is a group of landscapes that are recognisable within Hopper’s thematic and structural approaches.

In East River (New York City) and Railroad Sunset, an urban landscape highlighted against a luminescent sunset while Approaching the City is scene just before something happens, namely the arrival in the city.

east_river_edward_hopper East River (New York City)

hoppersunwebbg  Railroad Sunset

041.tif Approaching the City

Approaching the City  Is also typified by a space in the centre of the picture that is a variation on a theme of the  “sunlight on the side of a house”.

Hills South Truro

Hills South Truro

In Hills South Truro,  the hills in the middle ground loom over the small house and appear like large waves rolling towards the shore. A similar portrayal of a landscape that looks like a seascape is seen in Lighthouse Hill 1927.

 Lighthouse Hill 1927

Lighthouse Hill 1927

It’s an interesting reversal of the imagery. The landscape, the contours of the hills, become the waves moving towards a lighthouse and the small cottage. Here, Hopper appears to be experimenting with the form of the landscape and exploring the similarities between the contours the landscape and the shape of waves crushing onto the shore. searching perhaps for the ideal form.

These two paintings may provide a useful insight into one of Hopper’s preoccupations when seen in relation to one another political Hopper painting.

In Excursion into philosophy,  Hopper paints a man looking at a patch of sunlight falling on the carpet in his room.


Jo [Hopper’s wife] recorded cryptically, “The open book is Plato, re-read too late,”.

There is a hint that the man in the painting is contemplating Plato’s idea of ideal forms which are distinct from the world of the senses and constitute the highest form of reality. In the painting, the man turns his back on the world of the senses, shown in the naked body of his lover, in favour of the contemplation of higher and ideal forms which are represented in a patch of sunlight.

It is possible to see the characteristic style so evident in Hopper’s paintings as a search for the ideal form or for a visual archetype co-responding to an ideal form. The yachts in his seascapes are pared back and elemental yachts: small gaff rigged yawls.

So many of the people in his paintings are poised between events, almost at a point where time has stopped and retirements come independent of the immediate and sensual world.

In endeavouring to document and explain Opera’s depiction of the ideal forms, one is constantly confronted with the difficulties that the critic and commentator must do this through language whereas Hopper chose to do it through imagery saying, “If you could say it in words, there would be no reason to paint.”

Malcolm Fraser on Pauline Hanson

In a TV interview shortly before his death, Malcolm Fraser was asked about Pauline Hanson.

 Pauline Hanson

Pauline Hanson

His response ( apologies if I paraphrase slightly)

“Someone should have taken a baseball bat to that woman to ensure that she never came out of the burrow.”

Now he may have used the word “metaphorically” but I like to think he didn’t.

Not supporting lifestyle choices with taxpayer funds

Tony Abbott’s been caught  with his snout in the travel expenses trough before. He’s managed to combine  “work commitments” with various triathlons and attendances at  mate’s weddings.  In fairness, he did refund the money. He knew was wrong. But he still doing it.

The Herald Sun has revealed Mr Abbott  jetted to Melbourne to attended a lavish birthday party for Paul Marks at the Huntingdale Golf Club.

Mr Marks is the executive chairman of Nimrod Resources. Between them and Rod and Max donated $750,000 to the Liberal party.

The VIP jet that Abbott is alleged to have used can cost about $4000 an hour to operate.

Clearly, Tony Abbott thinks it was one rule for everybody else and another for him and at the end of the age of entitlement certainly doesn’t include prime ministerial perks.

A small but avoidable human tragedy

The suicide of  86-year-old Dorothy Hookey, suffering intolerable arthritic pain and also a  long-time member of pro-euthanasia group Exit International has attracted both media and, unfortunately, police attention.

Dorothy took all the precautions necessary not to involve her family, and in particular, her husband Graham, in her suicide. She died alone and without any of the family knowing the time she had chosen for her death.

Her husband discovered her sitting up in bed, and suspecting a heart attack, tried to revive her, without success.

When a suicide note was discovered the next day,  the police, in an act of the most unbelievable insensitivity, began searching the Hookey’s house.

And what were they looking for?

Evidence that he had assisted her. Of course he assisted her. That’s what people who are 85 years old and married to each other do. They assist each other. They make caps of tea  for each other. They pick up packages from the post office from each other. They key in URLs and make internet payments for each other if their partner’s arthritic fingers are incapable of working a keyboard.

The problem is that this is a crime.

Graham Hookey may face a prison term  for assisting his wife's suicide despite his wife's best efforts to avoid exactly that situation

Graham Hookey may face a prison term for assisting his wife’s suicide despite his wife’s best efforts to avoid exactly that situation

People like Dorothy Hookey do not reach a point where they are able to commit suicide without the assistance, help and emotional support of their partner.

It must be a painfully difficult experience for both of them. But they are both entitled to respect, privacy and dignity in this.

And yet at the end this incredibly strong woman chose to take her life without telling her partner, Graham. She knew that if he were present when she died he would risk going to prison. She may also have known that he would have insisted on being present.

Dorothy Hookey’s death was an unnecessarily lonely death and we can only imagine Graham Hookey’s grief.

Yet despite overwhelming public support for euthanasia, there are no politicians in Australia who have the intestinal fortitude to stand up and say, “This must stop.”

RIP Dorothy Hookey

RIP Dorothy Hookey

Kerry O’Brien: still sharp, still the best

When Kerry O’Brien wrapped up a recent ABC Four Corners program on the problems faced by Australia’s returned servicemen and their shameful treatment by the defence forces and the government, he said (and I probably paraphrase a little)


So here’s a question for those politicians who were so happy to share the limelight with these troops when they were on active service overseas: “What have you done for them since their return?”


Malcolm Fraser, Gough Whitlam and immigration policy

Last night’s ABC program on Malcolm Fraser paid due homage to the dead. It emphasised Fraser’s role in combating apartheid in Africa and most particularly his stance on Vietnamese refugees after the Vietnam war. These are undoubtedly achievements that place him well above the normal run of politicians.

The issue of the Vietnamese refugees is particularly relevant today.

Fraser argued that Australia had responsibility to the Vietnamese who fought alongside Australian troops against the Vietcong. His decision to allow large numbers of these refugees into Australia was not a popular one in the electorate or with the bureaucracy.

There was bi-partisan agreement between Whitlam and Fraser on the issue although Fraser implied in the interview that Whitlam only agreed because he (Fraser) wedged Whitlam into a position where he could not to oppose the government rather than Whitlam agreeing as a matter of principle (but more of that later).

 Whitlam and Fraser: their attitude towards Vietnamese refugees should be an example to contemporary politicians

Whitlam and Fraser: their attitude towards Vietnamese refugees should be an example to contemporary politicians

It is a commentary on the lack of moral and ethical fibre in the political leadership of both  of the current parliamentary parties that on the issue of refugees the only bi-partisan agreement that exists is to send them to Nauru or Manus Island.

Fraser rightly condemned both political parties on this issue. His view will be the one that history will justify.

A Systems view on calling a double dissolution

Systems theorists have a simple way of examining organisational and social systems. They examine the system from three interconnected prospectives: Events, Patterns and Structures.

Events are anything that occurs once and is not repeated. Events occur because of a unique set of circumstances that is unlikely to recur. Often, in the day-to-day rush of life, we do not recognise that some events keep popping up and start forming patterns. When this occurs, we need to look to understand the underlying structures that are producing these patterns of  systems behaviour.

We can examine Tony Abbott’s desire for a double dissolution in the light of this particular analytical tool.

In the life of the Abbott government, the most significant event was their election victory in 2013. In the light of the ongoing opinion polls, this victory appears to be an event: a one-off occurrence not to be repeated. It is possibly simply just the result of the manufactured unpopularity of both Gillard and Rudd.

Yet this may be indicative of an underlying structure in political sentiment in the Australian electorate: a growing unpopularity of governments of whatever complexion.

Opinion polls since the last election have demonstrated a pattern in the support for the two major parties.

 Two-party preferred voting intentions showing Labor with a clear lead over the Coalition since the election

Two-party preferred voting intentions showing Labor with a clear lead over the Coalition since the election

In the light of these results, a system theorist would ask  “What are the underlying structures that produce this pattern?”

The Coalition’s fortunes went into an immediate decline after the election and have remained at election-losing levels since then.

What must alarm the Coalition is that their popularity went into decline before they actually did anything, making it very difficult to blame specific policies or actions for the decline in popularity.

There is clearly something in the way public opinion is being structured, or possibly restructured given the lack of an Abbott government “honeymoon period”, that is producing this remarkable reversal of political sentiment.

There is clearly something in the structure of public opinion that is producing these disastrous results. One element is clearly the profound unpopularity of Tony Abbott.

Tony Abbott is widely mistrusted in the electorate

Tony Abbott is widely mistrusted in the electorate

But whether this is sufficient to explain the Coalition’s parlous position is debatable.

There is clearly something else at work and it may represent a significant shift in the way the Australian electorate views the two major parties.

The Coalition is putting great faith in the forthcoming budget to restore its fortunes. However, given the pattern of the opinion polls, it would appear that the first Hockey budget was not a major element in the ongoing unpopularity of the government. If this is true, the next budget with a good better and different, may have little effect on the government standing.

The government's unpopularity is not solely to  Joe Hockeys first budget

The government’s unpopularity is not solely to Joe Hockeys first budget

The challenge for the government is to understand what structural elements of public opinion are working against it.

Some would argue that It is simply a leadership issue and changing leaders, from  Abbott to Turnbull, will be sufficient to reverse this trend. The risk in changing leaders is that it will prove to be an event, a one-off occurrence that is likely to be repeated and which has no effect on the pattern of voting intentions ,let alone on the underlying structures of public opinion.

The idea of electing Malcolm Turnbull as leader is based on the assumption that of the major structural reason for the unpopularity of the Liberal party is Tony Abbott. If this is not true, and the answer is somewhat more deep-seated, then switching to Turnbull may not produce the kind of turnaround that is required.

Electing Malcolm Turnbull may just be a blip

Electing Malcolm Turnbull may just be a blip

What is more likely is that public opinion has now been profoundly affected by a deep-seated distrust and dislike of the two major parties, particularly the one that is in power. Witness the stunning turnaround result in the Queensland election and the defeat of the Liberal party in Victoria.

This represents a far more serious political problem for both the Liberal and Labor parties because it is a problem that affects them both severally but which they are only ever going to try to solve separately.

What could happen in a double dissolution is that Labor wins power only to be affected by the anti-government sentiment that is now becoming deep-rooted in the Australian political psyche. The problem may well be that a significant proportion of the population doesn’t dislike the Labor Party or the Liberal party, it simply dislikes government of whatever complexion.

Given the leadership of both of the two major parties, it is unlikely that either has the political and intellectual horsepower to pull themselves out of this morass.

One thing is fairly certain. A double dissolution will not return control of the Senate to either of the major parties. It may change the people who sit on the crossbenches but is unlikely to reduce their numbers numbers, the diversity of their political views or their political intractability.

The equity test for Hockey’s next budget

In an article in The AgeJohn Daley, CEO of the Grattan Institute, argues the case of the abolition of negative gearing.

The argument comes in two parts. The first is that it is massively inequitable with  the top 2% of taxpayers claiming 50% of the deductions. The second is that the argument that negative gearing increases the housing stock is a furphy as very little of the money invested goes into new housing.

Daley suggests allowing investors to deduct the expense of owning a property against capital gains when they sell the property. This really  delays the benefit of negative gearing and that delay may be sufficient to deter people from investing in negatively geared properties in the first place.

One good suggestion that Daley makes is to increase capital gains tax on negatively properties from 50% to 100%. This would have a significant detrimental impact on  speculative investment in real estate.

The real iniquity is that taxpayers who are negatively geared can deduct the expenses of losses on properties against their marginal rate which, given that mostly rich people invest in negative geared properties would be at 45%.

One other possibility is to require people who invest in real estate to incorporate so that they can only claim deductible expenses, namely interest-rate payments and repairs, at the company tax rate of 30%.

If the next budget is to meet the equity test, Joe Hockey must show that he is prepared to  tackle the tax benefits of the wealthy rather than simply attack the welfare benefits of the poor.

Another one leaves the island: Glenn Lazarus departs from political Lala land

One thing you could say about Glenn Lazarus in his previous career was that you could always to see him coming.

But this week, Lazarus blindsided Clive Palmer and left the Palmer United Party. This reduced PUP to one senator, the loquacious Zhenya Wang here seen delivering his maiden speech, ably backed up by the equally loquacious Rickie Muir. Jaqui Lambie is there as well and appears to be trying to stick a microphone up her nose


Lazarus’s  defection to the cross benches leaves PUP with only one senator and now scarcely a force to be reckoned with in the Senate.

To paraphrase Lady Bracknell from Oscar Wilde’s The Importance of being Ernest

To lose one Senator may be regarded as a misfortune; to lose two looks like carelessness.

You have to sympathise with Clive Palmer. He went to the last federal election with a very clear policy platform for PUP: “Whatever Clive happens to think today.” And the Senators, all three of them, were elected on the promise “We will do what Clive tells us to.”

So people knew what they were getting when they voted for PUP in the upper house.

But now two of the senators have reneged on the mandate given to them by the Australian electorate. And we no longer know what we are going to get from Jaqui Lambie or Glenn Lazarus. Now, it may well be that it something better than agreeing with Clive Palmer but that’s not what they are elected for.

Both Lambie and Lazarus were elected as PUP candidates. If they no longer wish to be members of the party, they should resign their seats in the Senate, give up their  $185,000 pa  salary and stand at the next general election as independents. Following the convention, PUP should be able to dominate two members of its party to fill the seats in the Senate.

The Senate seems to be moving closer and closer to fulfilling Paul Keating’s definition.

Tony Abbott and “lifestyle choices”

Mr Abbott said it was not the taxpayers’ job to “subsidise lifestyle choices” of indigenous people lived in remote areas far away from services such as schools and hospitals.

There has been almost universal condemnation of his comments from aboriginal community leaders.

His comment is typical of the manner in which politicians, and particularly Abbott, seek to define the terms of a debate, normally by narrowing them.

By using the term “lifestyle choices”, Abbott is blurring the distinction between a choice and a necessity. He does this by shifting the meaning of the term “style”. One meaning of the word style is the manner in which something is done.

By this definition lifestyle is the manner in which someone lives and applicable to all forms of living, be they urban, rural, affluent or poverty stricken.

But when we talk about lifestyle, it is generally about something that is done with flair, individuality, class and panache.  It may also be glossy, tasteless, tacky and shallow. But generally, it’s something that someone will admire can possibly aspire to. So when we talk about “lifestyle”, we generally talk about something that is noticeable in its individuality and exceptional in its difference from the way other people live.

Importantly, it’s about the choices that people are able to make.

Di and I are members of the global middle-class which is anyone who earns an income in excess of $2 a day after adjusting for purchasing power (Chen and Ravallion 2010). Because of this Di and I are able to make lifestyle choices. Recently we made a choice to buy a new house in Richmond.

 This is a lifestyle choice

This is a lifestyle choice

We also bought a new car and I chose to have elective surgery on my knee.

In doing this, I chose a surgeon who holds a Chair in surgery at Melbourne University. With him came an outstanding anaesthetist, an assistant surgeon and eight other people who seem to be standing around in the operating theatre, an outstanding cardiologist, a nuclear medicine radiologist, pathology lab and two outstanding hospitals. There are also a lot of people making cups of tea.

These are lifestyle choices. I can make them because, by global standards Di and I are extremely rich and also extremely fortunate.

However, when Tony Abbott talks about the lifestyle choices of aboriginal people who live in remote communities, he’s talking about living conditions like this:

 This is not a lifestyle choice

This is not a lifestyle choice

To suggest that this is a lifestyle choice is an insult to the aboriginal community and the intelligence of the Australian people. The reality is that people live in these communities because they have no options, no choices.

Not like the ones that Tony Abbott and I have.