7 Mar


When I was 12 years old I cheated at school. I had been required to draw something or other and determined to do my own version of a flying vampire-man type creature. In the original source this bat man had one of his legs raised so that the knee pointed out at us. This required foreshortening. I had no idea what foreshortening was really so I didn’t know how to do it. I kept trying and producing awkward legs. The upper part of the leg between the knee and the torso kept appearing as ever shorter and fatter sausages.

So I used a bit of tracing paper finally and, once I’d got an outline, went on to complete a drawing that earned a lot of praise. I didn’t tell anyone the secret of my success. When I’d finished the tracing and etched it on to a bit of paper, drawn in the outlines , I looked and saw that the key to foreshortening was to present the upper bit of the leg as a circle against which the lower bit of the leg would be drawn. I never had to use tracing paper again. I’d learned foreshortening.

I suspect that David Hockney’s Secret Knowledge will go down in history as the first significant art theory of the 21st century. Can’t be sure of course. The idea behind it, that the Western Masters used lenses has caused great offense.

Predictably those offended have launched a counter-offensive arguing that Hockney’s argument is an “attempt to diminish the abilities of universally accepted masters in order to raise himself to their level – or lower them to his.” The arguments in this link are extremely dishonest. For example Kirk Richards argues that Hockney is basing the improvement on a shift in quality of representation that occurred over two-hundred years. He isn’t. The shift as he repeatedly says took place in decades during the 1500s.

Brian K Yoder argues:

One interesting fact about these drawing devices is that one of the earliest creators of photography, Fox Talbot, originally became interested in the idea of photography because he found it impossible to make acceptably realistic drawings using a camera lucida or camera obscura So it would be more accurate to say that the failure of optical aids to allow the creation of realistic drawings led to the development of photography rather than that the successes of optical aids led to the creation of realistic drawings.

He doesn’t mention that he pinched this anecdote from Lawrence Weschler’s initial article on Hockney’s investigations published in New Yorker magazine in 1999. Yoder’s read the article, he cites it and the anecdote is in it.

Yoder also claims it:

…relevant to consider that this is how Hockney has always made his “art”, by photographing things and pasting the photos together, or tracing optical images from a projector of one kind or another, and that he never learned how to make realistic drawings and paintings any other way.

Not only was Hockney properly trained according to the Carracci school, he has never used a projector to make drawings or paintings. And his cut-ups – photocollages utilizing Cubist theory – were developed in the 1980s fully 20 years after the man established himself as a painter. Moreover Hockney’s photocollage argument for Old Masters’ work, that is that Jan Van Eyck et al used convex or concave mirrors to render realistic projections was actually suggested by Charles Falco.

The vast bulk of evidence including the painting of out-of-focus details, the lack of underdrawing in very sophisticated rendering and the qualification that the painters utilized lenses but a. did not entirely depend on them and b. needed considerable draughting skill to make any use of them at all is not addressed.

Hockney is dismissed as an untalented artist desperate to explain his lack of talent away. Never mind that he’s well established artist with a popular market and critical respect and place in art history. Never mind the entire history of modernism.

So dishonest are we in defending our precious gods.

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