My talented and very intelligent boss changed my life on Saturday by bringing in the new expanded version of David Hockney’s book Secret Knowledge: Rediscovering the Lost Techniques of the Old Masters. While we agreed the title is lame, we spent hours researching (which I’ll share with you so click on all the links in this post) art-optics and I will never look at art in museums the same again. That shouldn’t scare anyone though, it’s absolutely fascinating and will show you a new way of seeing. It’s also crazy that not one art historian or critic discovered this, it could have only taken a painter to.
Hockney argues in the book that the Old Masters, beginning in the 1400′s, used optical instruments or aides such as lenses, mirrors, the camera obscura, and the camera lucida to produce their strikingly realistic effects. The book obviously caused a huge debate about art and science, which should be expected if you radically challenge the romantic views of how Western art was established, but there is no doubt in my mind after reviewing this book that he is absolutely correct. And it’s not disappointing, but inspiring. Hockney never claims that these geniuses are any less genius, you will actually respect them more learning of their innovations, and even possibly, their invention of photography.
Here’s a trailer for his BBC special (the book is way better). The clips are kind of silly and a little misleading but still fun to watch.