Tuesday, August 3, 2010

David Hockney

Caravaggio, 1598-9, Judith Beheading Holofernes
I just finished David Hockney's Secret Knowledge, cover to cover. Intriguing. If you have not read it, I highly recommend it. I don't totally agree with everything he writes, but certainly, his thesis merits deeper investigation, even more than what he has already found. Basically, he claims that early in the 15th century, artists used lenses (a camera obscura) to help them draw and paint the world. And that even if they had not actually used the lens to draw, certainly they were influenced by paintings that were drawn with the aid of a lens; ultimately, paintings have a certain "look" when painted with the aid of a camera obscura. From my own experience, I can tell you, that certainly painting from a photograph is absolutely, 100% different than painting from life. There is a certain look to it that betrays its photographic lineage. It could be that when one is working from a photo, it feels as if there is no time limit... so, naturally, the hand slows down, the lines become static and too sure. Live models are fleeting. Muscles settle and move, expressions change, fruit decay, light fluctuates. But, mostly, you see differently. I see objects and can feel they are dimensional, they continue beyond what one can see, they continue to exist in time as well. Photographs are flattened and the dimension of time is lost, and it shows even when one tries to paint them. Hockney says the "look" of the camera obscura is the chiaroscuro, the dark deep shadowy background with the intense lighted foreground, all figures nearly lined up on a plane. Also, the sudden development of the fleeting expression, such as the smile. And, now when I see paintings, I cannot help but see them in this new light. I used to go often to the Norton Simon in Pasadena and think the same thing... why weren't there smiling people in paintings? Then again, a smile is a little disturbing. It would seem a little psychotic if a smile were perpetually frozen in a painting since smiles are supposed to be fleeting.  Smiles are natural expressions of joy/menace/deceit...  Why, even Pepperidge Farms had to leave some goldfish unsmiley. So, why is it that people always want to capture people smiling in photos?

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