Sunday, August 15, 2010

David Hockney, continued

The Orrery by Joseph Wright of Derby, 1766
Take a look at the painting on the left... does it not remind you of a photograph?  Could you not imagine the scene staged and lit?

If David Hockney's theory has merit, then there are many implications.  Take, for instance, our veneration of the Old Masters.  I never thought they used lenses and/or cameras to project the three dimensional world into two dimensions.  We were taught that they were great masters of drawing, that they could draw anything by eye-balling, and it was this skill which they built upon that allowed them to become masters of painting.  It also means that the chiaroscuro effect that we associate with many Renaissance artists, namely, Caravaggio (as Hockney points out), was simply an artifact -- that in using a lens, subjects had to be strongly lit in order to be seen, and thus cast deep shadows which were then simply captured in painting.  In other words, this rather sudden concern for realism was the consequence of a technological innovation and not a purely aesthetic movement.  Ironically, it was the invention of the photographic print that spurred artists to found the Impressionist movement.  Artists did not want to imitate a print... in a sense, they wished to remain relevant and prove that they could do something only a human being could do, and not some piece of machinery.  So, if Hockney is correct, then artists of the Renaissance were capturing the two dimensional image they saw projected onto their canvas.... they were the "developers" of the image.  They fixed the image onto paper or canvas using paint/pencil/ink, and were then replaced by a copper plate and some mercury and silver when the daguerreotype was invented.     Ironic, isn't it?  Could it be so?  Were artists simply performing a mechanical type of work?  Were they simply trained to paint... by numbers, so to speak?  Is art as expression of an aesthetic sense only a "modern" concern caused in part by inventions such as cameras and now computers?  Is art (and literature and music and dance and all other creative endeavors) all that is left to assert our humanity?  And, if so, shouldn't we prioritize these endeavors instead of pushing them aside, thinking that they are useless, frivolous pastimes for the elite?  Isn't it time to reclaim our humanity?

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