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Hockney's Theory--a Rebuttal
Back on the fourth day of February of this year, I wrote regarding David Hockney's new theory of art history. Namely, he contends that quite a few highly regarded painters dating back to about 1600 or slightly before, made use of lenses and viewing devices in drawing their works onto canvas. Artists he mentions include Caravaggio, Velázquez, Dürer, Vermeer, Chardin, Hals, Canaletto, and others. He hypothesises that early artists used a room-size camera obscura while those after 1807 used a camera lucida to nail down their drawings. Now, in the interest of fairness, I'm presenting the other side of the argument, as proposed by Gary Faigin, founder of the Academy of Realist Art in Seattle.

Faigin begins by citing quite a number of artists from the Renaissance on who couldn't possibly have used viewing devices, given the angles involved in their images or the fantasy nature of their work. Yet these images painted "out of their heads" so to speak, bear the same marks of anatomical accuracy Hockney insists appeared suddenly around the 1600s only after the introduction of finely ground lenses from Germany and Holland. Faigin concludes it would be impossible to utilise such devices when the artist didn't, in fact, even use models. Likewise, many of the architectural backgrounds used in these paintings are also inventions of the artists' minds. They never existed in real life. Then Faigin goes on to compare the work of painters and sculptors of the time, finding a high correlation between them in their accuracy and design development in spite of the fact that no viewing device ever invented would have been much help to a Michelangelo or Bernini.

Switching directions, Faigin chastises Hockney for underestimating the trained eyes of the artists he cites. Hockney makes much of the fact that Caravaggio left no preliminary drawings for most of his works, equating that to the fact he didn't need them given his drawing methods. Faigin counters that Caravaggio, indeed, didn't need them; but not because of any "cheating" with lenses, but because the man was such a virtuoso draughtsman with paint and brush. He notes various textural elements in Caravaggio's surfaces to indicate that the artist's preliminary drawings were done not on paper but on canvas, developed in paint, and sometimes changed radically from their original form. He cites several artists, students, and former students of his school who can paint photographic likenesses without either photos or preliminary drawings.

Faigin goes on to make much of the fact that it would be difficult if not impossible for any of the artists Hockney mentions to have drawn self-portraits using viewing devices other than mirrors. And yet, there is no noticeable differences in their self-portraits and those they painted of others (presumably with the use of viewing devices). He sees the popularity of Hockney's theory as part of the current politically correctness in denigrating the work of dead, white, European males in favour of feminism and multiculturalism. He is especially outraged that Hockney considers these artists as beneficiaries rather than masters of their new, optical technologies, which, in their own self-interest, they kept a secret. He also scoffs at the likelihood such a "secret" could have been kept all these years anyway. He goes on to wonder why none of these devices have ever surfaced in the otherwise detailed inventories of Hockney's artists after their deaths. Thus far, in fact, there have been few, if any, written accounts by contemporaries of their use. And finally, Faigin contends that Hockney, who makes no secret of using projected images in drawing his own works, has a vested interest in "rewriting" art history to support his own working techniques. As Faigin puts it, for this reason, "Hockney should be the last person to take as an authority on such matters."

Contributed by Lane, Jim
14 April 2000

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