Viewer's Guide

Welcome to David Hockney's insights into the development of Western Art. To judge if Hockney is correct, you must re-examine the history of Western Art with new eyes. So addressing Hockney's claims has positive consequences. Whether he is right or wrong, it is the paintings that matter. You will study them more closely and, in so doing, you will learn to appreciate them all the more.

How can you judge if Hockney is right or wrong? As you read Hockney's writings you will get his view. As you read the writings of Hockney's detractors, you will get the opposing view. This debate continues to be fiercely fought. No side is ready to concede. How are you, the viewer, to decide? That is the purpose of this web site. I want you to acquire a clear understanding of the issues. And, in a few cases, I want you to see how the issues can be resolved.

Hockney raises many questions. Did van Eyck use a concave mirror to sketch a particular painting? Did Caravaggio use a lens to sketch one of his paintings? Did Vermeer use a camera obscura to produce one of his paintings? Did Ingres use a camera lucida in his portrait drawings? Notice immediately that these are separate issues. Showing that Vermeer used an optical device, in one painting, has no bearing whatsoever on his possible use of an optical device in another.

Each case has to be assessed, separately and exclusively, on its own merits from the evidence relevant to the particular case. Is Hockney right? Such blanket questions are meaningless. At issue are as many questions as there are paintings under consideration: Did that particular artist use an optical device to produce that particular painting? Once you understand what questions can be asked and answered, you are already more informed than those of Hockney's critics who dismiss him categorically.

This web site includes the opinions of different experts to help you decide. We start with Hockney's hypothesis and then explain how the web site is organized.

If you are viewing this as a class assignment, your teacher will have access to the material in the Teacher's Guide. Your teacher is free to use that material as your teacher thinks fit. If you are viewing this not as a student but out of your interest and you wish to access the Teacher's Guide, please e-mail me and I will send it to you. I especially welcome any comments you may have about the web site. We want to make it better and you can suggest how.

Michael Henchman
henchman@brandeis.edu
(781) 736-2558


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