I came upon an Edward Hopper painting the other day and seeing it gave me pause. (Above, "Room In New York", 1936). As you may know, Hopper was best known for his stark scenes of American everyday life. Most of his paintings are done in a dark pallet, and are profoundly and almost poetically studies on loneliness; that feeling that one gets of being alone, even in a crowd. In a time when cubism and abstraction were all the rage, he preferred realism. Yet when you look at his work, not only do you see masterful use of shape and composition, but the longing and emptiness speaks to the viewer like no sentence can.
What makes a "master"? Is it the breadth and scope of the artist's body of work? Is it the execution? The ability to speak volumes in a single panel? Probably all of these, and more. I can give you a litany of master artists, but I'm sure you have a pretty good idea of who they are, so I won't bore you. Even to the casual art follower, or not a follower at all, the names Picasso, Rembrandt and Michelangelo are easily recognizable. I get the feeling that Hopper never considered himself in that league, and indeed, if you asked random people, most would never have heard of him.
True masters, in days passed, were recognized as such, and attracted eager and willing students. Today, it's much more difficult to tell who is a true master, since art has become so incredibly diverse. There are just a hell of a lot of artists out there, and many would qualify for the "master" tag, depending on where your artistic interests lie.
I don't know where I'm at in my abilities, but I don't feel that I'm a master artist. I do know that what I create these days is for the most part what I want to say, the way I want to say it, without a thought to what the casual observer might think. As far as the masters go, I always come back to them for inspiration, not only for their technique, but for their intrinsic ability to make us think, as well as feel.
Thank you for that, Mr. Hopper.