Hockney's claims

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Hockney's claims

From Juan Carlos Martinez

Published before 2005


Yes, Piet, perhaps I shouldn’t be so quick to impugn a malicious intent on Mr. Hockney. I suppose he wasn’t consciously meaning to degrade the accomplishments of the great painters he speaks of, but he is doing just that. Or, to put it another way, he was subtly elevating himself to be closer to their level. What do you suppose he was thinking when he saw Warhol’s “line” or Ingres’, or Bellini’s portraits? Although, maybe not exactly aware of it in this way, he must somehow have concluded that, “those famous artists could do things that I, also a famous artist, cannot do. And, since we are equals — that is, we are all famous — then their ability to do these things must have been because they used devices. Warhol couldn’t draw, but he did trace projections, and therefore ... etc.” It’s the only explanation he can come up with. It’s the only plausible explanation for the book in the first place.

The thing about the Bellini portrait is that it CAN be done without the use of a device. It CAN be done by eye-balling and direct observation and that is more probably how it was done. The fact that he is unaware of that possibility is where the problem lies. He doesn’t seem to know what can or cannot be done so he suggests scenarios that would account for accomplishments beyond his ken, but which remain within his own limited understanding.

The odd optical effects which are seen in some paintings such as Holbein’s so-called “Ambassadors” painting is another thing. I am not arguing with the fact that artists in those days, like many other people then, were fascinated by the burgeoning science of optics and of lenses. Nor am I saying that they would not have used or experimented with these devices and their effects. I imagine they did, each to a greater or a lesser degree. But that is all a very long way from naming Western art, after a certain period, as being “lens-based art” and from saying that a thing “cannot” be done without a device, when it most assuredly can be. [...]