David Hockney

Toward an evaluation of David Hockney's theories of the use of optical techniques in Western painting of the past 600 years...

This web site discusses a startling new theory advanced by world-renowned artist David Hockney, working in collaboration with University-of-Arizona physicist Charles Falco, to the effect that, as far back as the 1420s, Master Painters in the European Tradition were employing optical devices to render lifelike images of people and their surroundings. This web site brings together Hockney, Falco, and their principal supporters and skeptics among art historians, art critics, scientists and painters for a full public airing of their views.

Most art historians believe that most European painters, since the Italian Renaissance, employed elaborate systems of mathematical perspective to achieve their effects. Over the past several years, however, Hockney and Falco have been arguing that, on the contrary, artists in the European Tradition, going all the way back to Bruges in the 1420s, were employing a variety of optical devices (including concave mirrors, lenses, the camera obscura and the camera lucida). In effect they suggest that painters (including Van Eyck, Caravaggio, Lotto, Velazquez, Vermeer, Chardin, Ingres, etc.) were using precursors of photographic cameras for centuries before the invention of camera film (chemical fixatives) in 1839; and that it was only with the spread of photography that European painters, suddenly disenchanted with the "optical look," began to undertake the critique of photography implicit in impressionism, expressionism and cubism and the modernist tradition.

Needless to say, these claims are highly controversial: if true, they would have far-reaching implications for our understanding of art. Public awareness of this new interpretation became widespread with the publication of Hockney's exposition of his thesis, Secret Knowledge: Rediscovering the Lost Techniques of the Old Masters, [1st edition, 2001; 2nd edition, 2006].


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