On "60 Minutes" tonight, December 1, 2002, David Hockney said that his discovery that early artists used optics to make their paintings more realistic didn't diminish the quality and importance and quality of their work.
I respectfully disagree. While there's no requirement for an artist or any other commercial entrepreneur to reveal their deepest trade secrets, the simple fact that these "artists" placed personal gain ahead of scientific achievement may have delayed important developments in optics and science by 4 or 6 centuries. Had other minds had the opportunity to explore the science behind this artist's trick, mankind may have made "one big step for man, one giant leap for mankind" several centuries earlier, and world wars may have been avoided.
Yes, they have a right to preserve their trade secrets. No, there is no law which impelled them to share them. But this incredibly selfish attitude accomplished nothing but to cause people to gauk at portraits which were misrepresented.
What a great fraud!
Legendary artist and author David Hockney will be guest of the Kentucky Author Forum on December 4, 2001 in Louisville. Hockney will discuss his new book "Secret Knowledge: Rediscovering the Lost Techniques of the Old Masters." (Penquin Putnam)
One of the most critically acclaimed contemporary artists, Hockney's innovative work influences nearly every medium - painting, drawing, stage design, photography and print making. In "Secret Knowledge" he rewrites the story of how Western artists made the great drawings and paintings of the last six centuries.
From his artist's perspective, Hockney asks how painters rendered their work rather than why. What he has discovered is that artists six-hundred years ago used lenses and mirrors to project color images of their subjects (people, fruit, vegetables, flowers, household objects) onto flat surfaces, and then traced those projected scenes with lifelike precision onto canvas or paper.
A chance observation in London's National Gallery led Hockney to develop his provocative insights and theories. Fueled by the passion of his pursuit, Hockney set aside his brushes, stopped painting, and over the course of two years he obsessively tracked down the hidden secrets Van Eyck, Holbein, da Vinci and other others among history's greatest painters. Backing up his theories with extensive scientific and visual evidence Hockney effectively argues that the widespread use of lenses and mirrors throughout the Renaissance produced a certain "look" that became the dominant way of representing and seeing the external world. Yet despite his discovery of artists' use of technical aids, Hockney leaves their personal mystique and talent intact, reminding readers throughout that the masters, not lenses, made their marks in paint with their own individual style and flair.
Given an extraordinary fresh look through the eyes of a contemporary master, hundreds of paintings of the great artists of the Renaissance are reproduced in "Secret Knowledge" in lavish color. To clarify his notions, Hockney uses his own drawings and photographs to clearly and simply illustrate how artists would have used the various optical devices available to them. Extracts from historical and modern documents provide further evidence and correspondence between Hockney and international experts details both the evolution of his theory and the furor that has erupted over it.
Achieving international success by his mid-20s, first as a leading Pop artist, Hockney's phenomenal success has been based not only on the flair, wit and versatility of his work, but also on his colorful personality. Michael Kimmelman, chief art critic of the New York Times, will interview him at the evening forum. A finalist in criticism for the Pulitzer Prize in 2000, Kimmelman has written on various cultural subjects for many publications. His book "Portraits: Talking with Artists at the Met, the Modern, the Louvre and Elsewhere" was selected as a notable book of the year by The Washington Post and The Times and a best book of the year by Publishers Weekly.
Christopher Tyler's objections
Christopher Tyler lists six objections, only two of which address in any way our optical evidence. As we show below, these two objections are based on an incorrect understanding of optical perspective, which in turn results in his conclusions being in error. His other four points are logical red herrings, having no bearing on either the scientific or the visual evidence. Tyler states:
Irrespective of what "most" artists might have done, this point has no logical connection with evaluating our optical evidence on certain specific artists. Aside from this error in logic, Tyler's statement implies that our discoveries are inconsistent with the existence of perspective discrepancies. Quite the opposite. Discussed at length at various places in Reference 1 are the important clues multiple perspectives within local regions provide for our discoveries.
There are many examples of Renaissance artists who used geometric perspective, intuitive perspective, diagonal perspective, and atmospheric perspective, to name some of the possibilities. However, the fact that many artists used geometric perspective, while obviously true, is logically unrelated to evaluating our optical evidence that demonstrates certain artists used lenses to project portions of images starting as early as c1430.
Tyler's understanding of perspective is simply wrong, as therefore are his conclusions based on the above incorrect statement. A very simple example will illustrate why Tyler is incorrect. Aim a camera down and take a photograph of the sidewalk in front of your feet. Now aim your camera at the horizon and take a second photograph. If you make a collage by taking a portion of the first photograph and pasting it over the second, obviously one set of vanishing points will be at the horizon, but the other will be somewhere overhead. Renaissance artists had complete freedom to raise or tilt their lenses as well as slide them sideways, and various examples are shown in Reference 1 where artists moved their lenses vertically.
This statement, while true, is another red herring. Actually, while incorrectly intended as an objection to our discoveries, in fact it actually supports our understanding of how the artists worked. A lens would have been used by an artist as an aid when it helped them accomplish his or her goals, but would not have been used when it did not. The complex shape and lighting of the chandelier in van Eyck's "Arnolfini Marriage" would have been much easier to produce with the aid of a lens, but the small dog would have been eyeballed. That is, both projected and eyeballed features are within a single painting.
Here Tyler makes an incorrect inference that is at variance with what we would expect from understanding human vision. Since humans automatically refocus their eyes as they scan across a scene, an out-of-focus feature does not look at all natural, except to modern people who have been inundated with such images on TV, movies, magazines, and in the viewfinders of their own still and video cameras. In fact, out-of-focus features must have looked especially unnatural to people who had never before seen projected images. Only if patrons were interested in paying for paintings containing features that appeared to them unnatural would artists have deliberately left in such out-of-focus features. Like the actual Rosetta Stone, there is every reason to expect the Lotto example to be the exception, not the rule.
Lotto's representation of an out of focus image
This incorrect statement by Tyler follows from his earlier statement No. 3 about perspective, which we already have shown is wrong. Lotto was free to raise, lower, rotate, and translate his lens as well as refocus it in his ultimately unsuccessful efforts to eliminate the unnatural out- of-focus feature. The resulting perspective in that region, while more complex than Tyler can understand by drawing a few simple lines on the painting, is far from "haphazard." In fact, it is quite "optical."
 David Hockney, Secret Knowledge: Rediscovering the Techniques of the Old Masters (Viking Studio, 2001).
 nb. In case there is any possible confusion about the work being referred to here, since this painting is in the Hermitage, we use the title "Husband and Wife" as used by Colin Eisler in his book "Paintings in the Hermitage" (Stewart, Tabori and Chang, 1990).