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Secret Knowledge: Rediscovering the lost…
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Secret Knowledge: Rediscovering the lost techniques of the Old Masters (edition 2006)

by David Hockney (Author)

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5061136,607 (4.04)3
"Come with David Hockney on a journey as he rewrites the story of how the masterpieces of Western art were created." "It was after a chance observation in London's National Gallery that Hockney became gripped by a desire to find out how the artists of the past managed to depict the world so accurately and vividly. As a painter constantly faced with similar technical problems, he asked himself: "How did they do this?" He set aside his brushes, stopped painting and, for the next two years, sacrificed his own time as an artist to follow this mystery trail, obsessively tracking down the hidden secrets of the Old Masters." "Now, Hockney recounts the story of his quest as it unfolded. He explains how he uncovered piece after piece of scientific and visual evidence, each one yielding further revelations about the past." "Hundreds of paintings and drawings - among them the best known and best loved works in the history of Western art - are reproduced and accompanied by Hockney's close, passionate and accessible decriptions. His own photographs and drawing illustrate the various methods used by past artists to capture accurate likenesses and present the results they would have achieved. In addition, extracts from the many historical and modern documents that he uncovered offer further intriguing evidence while correspondence between him and an array of international experts provides an exciting account of the remarkable story as it happened."--BOOK JACKET.Title Summary field provided by Blackwell North America, Inc. All Rights Reserved… (more)
Member:FuschiasRoom
Title:Secret Knowledge: Rediscovering the lost techniques of the Old Masters
Authors:David Hockney (Author)
Info:Thames and Hudson Ltd (2006), Edition: 2Rev Ed, 328 pages
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Secret Knowledge: Rediscovering the Lost Techniques of the Old Masters by David Hockney

  1. 00
    Norman Rockwell: Behind the Camera by Ron Schick (jcbrunner)
    jcbrunner: Before photography, the camera obscura was the painter's little helper.
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Showing 1-5 of 9 (next | show all)
Hockney reverse engineers the story of why the style of European painting diverged so fast and to such an extent starting from about 1420 onward. What he comes up with is a credible explanation: painters made use of optical tools (concave mirrors and lenses) to make projections to help them see and get their job done. He rebuilds this story by finding visual evidence in the “document” of the painting itself.

Hockney’s account is wonderful because it takes you from the inception of his idea through the many stages of work he did to gather evidence for his hypothesis. Very quickly, it becomes clear that optics did influence art earlier than once thought and one starts to get a sense of what an “optical” image really looks like in comparison to the “non-optical”. This visual training in the book allows one to really understand what Cezanne and Picasso were responding to when they did their work. They, too, knew that most imagery was informed by optics and, by counterexample, helped remind us that there are many more ways to represent what we see.

Hockney does not make a judgment about the artists who used optics or even optics in itself. His slogan is, “optics do not make marks”, meaning that artists still had a trained hand. Obviously there are good uses for optics and Hockney himself appears to have been dazzled by the optics he experimented with on his journey. However, Hockney is criticizing those that would rather hold up artists as savants than to interpret them as practical inventors. In fact, the prior view does double damage: it both locks us out of art (and the world, according to Hockney) and allows the art establishment to be “nobility”.

Hockney feels that the optical image keeps us in a fixed position with no movement. If this is all we know, how do we see ourselves in the world -- also fixed in position? What’s worse is that most of us think that the optical style is “real”. So if we think being fixed is real, then how can we see ourselves as part of that world where movement is necessary? I see some of the spirit of James Clerk Maxwell in that argument insofar as Maxwell wanted science to be about the process more than he wanted it to be about the products. Although we all enjoy the products of science and art, it is the process that is most important and should be available to us all instead of only the fixed products.

Of course, as the title suggests, the crux of this explanation is that these artists kept their usage of optics secret. There is no explicit written record of artists using these techniques, however the painting is the historical document and all but proves the techniques were used. It is also not unreasonable to think that images were highly sensitive materials in those days (since they are still powerful today). The use of optics and the independent creation of images would have been punishable and would require secrecy. Aside from external motivation for secrecy, there's the selfish motivation to maintain an artist's competitive advantage (in other words, money and prestige were at stake).

Hockney is highly visually literate, and, by reading this book, we all have a chance to see what he saw and pick up on his nuanced visual sense. Hockney’s most artful accomplishment in this book is that he successfully makes something so prevalent and ingrained as the optical image (TV, computer screens, print) seem so foreign to life. Hockney is a true artist for helping us realize this. ( )
  danrk | Jul 29, 2018 |
This is what you'll learn when you study the Old Bastards ! ( )
  Baku-X | Jan 10, 2017 |
Fascinating read. I happened to see this book in the library, and borrowed it because I had watched a documentary on the same topic.

The premise is that the old masters, such as Vermeer and others, used photographic/optical techniques and tools - such as the camera obscura or camera lucida.

Recommended for anyone interested in art history.
Unfortunately, I don't think it'll turn me magically into an artist ... ah well.
  GeetuM | Jun 3, 2016 |
This is what you'll learn when you study the Old Bastards ! ( )
  BakuDreamer | Sep 7, 2013 |
I first wrote about the controversial thesis of this book back in January of 2000, when my "Pick" was an article about David Hockney by Lawrence Wechler in the New Yorker. With the publication of this very attractive, large-format book, you can look for yourself at the evidence that he argues shows that many of the great master painters secretly used optical devices to help produce their work. The thing that I most like about "Secret Knowledge" is that the first half presents visual examples with minimal text. You can follow the thesis and consider the strengths and weaknesses of the argument, examining each of the magnificent plates for yourself. In the second half, Hockney provides historical background for the camera obscura and the camera lucida, and his correspondence with art historians, museum curators, and scientists around the world. This is a relatively expensive book that is worth the price, on both aesthetic and intellectual grounds. A less expensive book that examines the use of optical technology by Vermeer is "Vermeer's Camera : Uncovering the Truth Behind the Masterpieces" by Phillip Steadman, published by Oxford University Press. ( )
  hcubic | Feb 17, 2013 |
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"Come with David Hockney on a journey as he rewrites the story of how the masterpieces of Western art were created." "It was after a chance observation in London's National Gallery that Hockney became gripped by a desire to find out how the artists of the past managed to depict the world so accurately and vividly. As a painter constantly faced with similar technical problems, he asked himself: "How did they do this?" He set aside his brushes, stopped painting and, for the next two years, sacrificed his own time as an artist to follow this mystery trail, obsessively tracking down the hidden secrets of the Old Masters." "Now, Hockney recounts the story of his quest as it unfolded. He explains how he uncovered piece after piece of scientific and visual evidence, each one yielding further revelations about the past." "Hundreds of paintings and drawings - among them the best known and best loved works in the history of Western art - are reproduced and accompanied by Hockney's close, passionate and accessible decriptions. His own photographs and drawing illustrate the various methods used by past artists to capture accurate likenesses and present the results they would have achieved. In addition, extracts from the many historical and modern documents that he uncovered offer further intriguing evidence while correspondence between him and an array of international experts provides an exciting account of the remarkable story as it happened."--BOOK JACKET.Title Summary field provided by Blackwell North America, Inc. All Rights Reserved

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