Thursday, September 24, 2009

Through the Looking Glass

I recently came across this article, which outlines the research of the artist David Hockney (and others) into the use of various technologies of optical reproduction by many of the "Old Masters" of painting, and I thought some of you might find it interesting in connection with our discussion of Merleau-Ponty's "Eye and Mind."


Most of the article is devoted to explaining the optical devices (like the camera obscura, above) that may have assisted in the creation of some well-known masterpieces, as well as to Hockney's attempts to "prove" that these instruments were used in spite of the absence of documentary evidence. In other words, Hockney tries to demonstrate that these artists must have made use of such technological assistance simply on the basis of the artworks themselves, and they way that objects are arranged spatially within them.

While much of the article reads, to be honest, like a pitch for Hockney's book Secret Knowledge, in which the research behind these claims is presented, it still gives a nice synopsis of the ideas and a few clear illustrations of how these techniques can be seen in some familiar paintings. Still, the really interesting part of the article (to my mind) comes at the end, when Hockney contends with some of the critical responses that his claims have provoked since he introduced them about a decade ago. While he clearly does not want his research to be associated with the accusations of "cheating" that some people hear in it, and so defends the artists in that respect, he also makes it clear that, like Merleau-Ponty, he sees the paradigm of the optical perfection of perspective that reigned in painting from about the 15th century until the advent of photography (the perfection of the dream of mechanical production of images) as a falling away from the true task of the painter--and points to his preference for (surprise, surprise)...


Cezanne's way of placing these apples before the viewer to the detached, impersonal perspective offered by Chardin's (more technically perfect) peaches.


I'm curious to hear what you think about the article, so feel free to make use of the comments section. Anyone who's interested in this issue might consider reading Hockney's book (or others that I could recommend) as the research for a presentation.

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