Secret Knowledge: Rediscovering the Lost Techniques of the Old Masters (Anglais) Broché – 27 septembre 2006
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In this passionate yet pithy book, Hockney takes readers on a journey of discovery as he builds a case that mirrors and lenses were used by the great masters to create their highly detailed and realistic paintings and drawings. Hundreds of the best-known and best-loved paintings are reproduced alongside his straightforward analysis. Hockney also includes his own photographs and drawings to illustrate techniques used to capture such accurate likenesses. Extracts from historical and modern documents and correspondence with experts from around the world further illuminate this thought-provoking book that will forever change how the world looks at art.
Secret Knowledge will open your eyes to how we perceive the world and how we choose to represent it.--Ce texte fait référence à l'édition Broché .
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En développant avec vivacité sa thèse centrale —l'utilisation des artefacts optiques de saisie de l'image par les grandes maîtres du passé— Hockney nous offre aussi une vision saisissant de l'univers vu a travers les yeux d'un grand peintre d'aujourd'hui: lui-même.
C'est cette vision qui finalement l'emporte sur le contenu technique de son livre, qui néanmoins est brillant et bien documenté.
Sinon, illustrations superbe.
Un livre à avoir!!
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1. H points out that a huge majority of portraits in the period show the model as left handed--some 80%. This is consistent with use of lenses and inconsistent with the frequency of left-handedness in the population. Now, here is a verifiable fact. Are H's numbers right--or are they not?
2. H is not claiming that everyone 1400-1650 was a poor draftsman. At least in what I've seen so far, he doesn't claim e.g. that Rembrandt used optics. Part of his evidence is however that some artists who were great painters were not great draftsmen--their painting exceeds in accuracy their draftsmanship. Now this appears to me again something that is verifiable by a third party. (The question of H's own draftsmanship abilities is totally irrlevant. I don't like his art much myself).
3. In a highly competitive art market, where realism counted, what is the likelihood that artists would >not< use devices that helped them both with accuracy and speed? Even if the great Ren artists could paint and draw realistically without optics (and their education certainly was thorough), throughput and competitive concerns surely would have pushed them in that direction.
4. To my knowledge, no one has responded to H's claim that the change in light to very strong with dark shadows from about 1400 (light is flat) to 1500 is very consistent with use of optics. Yes, that is not the only possible explanation. But from a philosophy of science perspective, this phenomenon and the phenomenon of increased accuracy need to be explained. H at least offers an explanation. The burden of an alternative explanation is on the critics. H's hypothesis could be falsified by showing that in fact strong lighting was used before this period and flat lighting afterwards.
5. Another phenomenon for which H has an explanation but for which I haven't seen alternatives is the fact that in many realistic paintings, depth of field is evident. An example is the famous Vermeer milk pitcher painting. H has an explanation of why the foreground breadbasket is out of focus, while the background basket is (oddly) in focus. If a critic doesn't like H's explanation, he/she should provide an alternative.
6. H shows that in some cases extremely precise scaling is evident--scaling that would be very difficult to do by hand. Prof Falco, the optics and superconducting physicist who collaborated with H., has done the math and claimed that obtaining such accuracy by hand is very difficult since the error is (as I remember) under 2%). Doing anything by hand with under 2% error is quite a feat--including reconciling bank statements :)-- never mind drawing. Here is another phenomenon in which either the factual statements by H and Falco can be easily verified/falsified or need an alternative explanation should be provided.
On an ad hominem note, I think it is worth pointing out that art historians have a built-in motive for rejecting H's hypothesis: They didn't find it! I took an amateur to notice the discrepancies. Finally, personal experience suggests that some people have a lot more difficult time with accuracy/obtaining a likeness than others. For H to be correct, he does not need to support the claim that everyone who was accurate used optics, only that some did and these raised the bar for the art community as a whole.
Thanks for reading.
There is one sore spot. Historical and scientific types will quickly notice that Hockney reached his conclusions BEFORE his two year search for evidence and that weaknesses in the argument and evidence are not fully considered. The examples appear selective and are possibly not representative. Looking at the sample artwork, you can see his point but would not be suprised to hear valid alternative explanations. Though not proof positive, the work is persuasive, enlightening and more than a little revolutionary.
The first half of this book is visual. It shows the original paintings and drawings that led Hockney to this idea. Once it's pointed out, many signs are unmistakable: odd proportions in otherwise masterful works, inconsistent perspective drawn by people who really knew perspective, and a few other better-known oddities. Although I'm not a fan of Hockney's own work, I respect the training and sensitivity that picked out these features.
Hockney goes on to show how these artifacts could have come from use of a family of optical tools, including camera lucida and several variants on the camera obscura. This is where he brings the most to this book, in trying the tools himself, as an artist, and seeing what unique features each tool imposes on the resulting artworks. This is what has so many critics upset - the idea that the Old Masters might have used every tool possible to complete their commissions faster, and to give their patrons the most pleasing result for the ducat. Those critics know about the assembly-line work in some of the Old Masters' studios and who know about the other mechanical aids that are well documented, but squawk at the idea of adding another tool to their toolboxes. Huh?
Hockney's evidence is often circumstantial, since painting was (and often is) a secretive and competitive business. Still, he offers a good story, and the second half of the book adds a strong foundation of written records to the structure. This is the book's weakness, though. Hockney is an artist, not a historian or optical technologist. He chose a story-telling format for presenting his findings, the letters he exchanged with scholars and specialists in other fields. It has a friendly look, but lacks in density and in organization of the historical records.
Despite its many flaws, I find it a fascinating study. Hockney really brings history to life, with his own hands, dispelling the idea that historical study is a dry, dusty practice. His documentation lacks in formal rigor, and he addresses the Great Masters about whom people have strong sentiment. Some people see that as iconoclasm for its own sake - guys, get over it.
-- Address his facts with facts. Name-calling says more about you than him.
-- Picking one nit (and there are lots) doesn't pick apart the whole presentation.
-- Don't assume that Hockney's own art (of which I'm not a fan) decides the merit of his historical analysis.
-- Accept the idea that his eye may be better than the words he can put to his vision.
It's an honest and vivid account, with a good base in reason and fact. It deserves respect on that account, and works hard to earn the reader's enjoyment. I recommend this to anyone interest in the history and practice of visual art.
While at times Mr. Hockney may overstate the possible use of optics where supreme draughtmanship might explain the mastery of the old masters, his ideas are certainly intriguing and merit further examination. It was especially interesting to me to watch Hockney's own mark-making 'improve' as he himself practised drawing portraits using an optical device invented in the early 19th century. I even found myself thinking, "Hey, where can I get my hands on a camera lucida and give this a whirl, too?"
Despite whatever academic faults one might find with Hockney's method of establishing his theory, the book itself is a joy. Hockney approaches this topic with unabashed enthusiasm, and rewards the reader with lavish and well-elucidated visual aids.
First of all I'd like to say that I find the authors style refreshing in that he doesn't try to force his opinions on you and his arguments are logically set out. However I have to agree with some of the other reviewers in that he did come to his conclusions before he proved them and I feel that some of his evidence is inadequate and forced to fit the theory and not the other way round and some of his arguments are faulty or badly presented.
However, the authors' overall information appears to be based on pretty solid ground and I found it quite interesting. There seems to be enough contemporary evidence available to show that the sort of optical devices he talks about were available to artists of the time if they wanted to use them. I think at the end of the day though it all comes back to - does the use of any sort of optical device enable you to paint something that you wouldn't have the skill to paint without.
In my experience, the answer is no.
If you check out the websites of any of the good realist art schools you'll see that people today can match anything the old masters did in terms of realism without the use of any sort of photographic or optical device at all (many realist artists are dyed in the wool 'purists' in regards to that ([...] is a good example). However David Hockney never claimed this. In fact he writes in the introduction "Let me say here that optics don't make drawing any easier either, far from it - I know, I've used them". The fact that he hasn't made this view clear throughout the rest of the book and is known as not being an accomplished realist painter himself, is the reason I think, that he's drawn so many peoples fire.
Also, Anthony Ryder (a very skilled realist artist and author of the book `The Artists Complete Guide to Figure Drawing') says that it takes him about 20 hours to complete a life drawing; and that's just a drawing, let alone a painting. And he's an expert. Possibly add another 10-15 hours for a painting. What wealthy customer has the patience and time to pose for that long? I think that any `old master' or painter would be very grateful to get their hands on something that could accurately and helpfully speed up the whole process if they needed or wanted it.
Apart from that, the illustrations in this book are lavish and there are quite a few close-ups, which is always a bonus for an artist. The writing is refreshingly easy to read and interesting, although perhaps lacking a little in the scholarship and research department. I'd recommend it to anyone interested in the subject. At any rate, at least you can have something to say to those irritating people (usually non-painters) who claim that " real painters don't use photographs".