Saturday, August 29, 2009

The Camera Obscura, When Accuracy Rules

Back in 2001, British artist David Hockney suggested great artists like Vemeer, Rembrandt and others, could have used, god forbid, a camera obscura in the creation of their work.

"From the moment David Hockney began to suspect that the Old Masters had created many of their paintings with the help of lenses—in effect tracing their subjects— he insisted he was not saying they cheated.

"Optical devices certainly don't paint pictures," Hockney said. "Let me say now that the use of them diminishes no great artist."


Yet as he studied prints of five centuries' worth of paintings on a "Great Wall" in his Los Angeles studio, there was an unmistakable gotcha to his mission. He knew that many art historians would be horrified at what he was suggesting.

Did Vermeer use a lens to help him capture the intricate patterns in the folds of a tablecloth? Or Caravaggio, to re-create a curving, foreshortened lute? Even Rembrandt fell under Hockney's gaze. He could not have been looking through
a lens while creating his haunting self-portraits. "But," Hockney said, "he might have for the helmets and armor."

Before long, Hockney was wearing a T-shirt blaring, "I Know I'm Right."


Needless to say, his findings caused consternation and ridicule (of Hockney) because, if true, these artists, to some, would now be considered mere tracers of images, thus relegating work like "The Music Lesson or A Lady at the Virginals with a Gentleman." as a cheat and not as a masterpiece revered all over the world, a notion this artist finds ridiculous to the extreme.

The reason why I find this argument ridiculous lies in the fact any creative person worth her salt will use any tool available if it helps them to create the very best work possible in the least amount of time because if this was not the case, then oil, canvas or paintbrush would never have been invented either as these tools must also be considered "cheats" if the luddites of the world had their way.

Because the Camera Obscura accurately displays perspective, it stands to reason a Vemeer would jump on it if it helped him to capture this illusive imagery thus allowing him more time to focus on laying down countless transparent layers of paint in order to build up the incredible sense of light and detail that permeates all of his work, something the camera obscura obviously does not do, thus relegating the "cheat" hypothesis to the wastebasket where all stupid ideas reside.

BTW, David Hockney's no slouch as an artist either as seen by his "A Bigger Splash" piece done in 1967.

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