Response to <u>Hockney the Hackneyed</u>

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Response to <u>Hockney the Hackneyed</u>

From Thomas Hauge

Published before 2005

Being a great fan of your site and your project, I must confess I think far less of ARC after reading Hockney the Hackneyed [Now printed as Hockney Completely Refuted in this section. -- Ed]. ARC has always expressed strong opinions, sometimes crossing the line into sectarianism. The article about David Hockney (hereafter called DH), however, crosses a fateful line : its arguments are unfair, its facts are incorrect, and it persuasiveness relies on the same effect the ARC otherwise pretends to be fighting against, namely the conspiracy among self-appointed savants and self-important followers. This is, in my humble opinion, uncalled-for and damaging to the ARCs credibility as a force in revitalizing realist art.

Even before mentioning Hockney's name, you cry "manipulated", "special interests", "narrow", and "lies". After this opening, reading the rest of the piece is almost superfluous. I did so, however, in the faint (and vain) hope that some attempt at argument or proof would follow. Frankly, the whole treatment makes me wonder if you've actually bothered to read DH's book. Had you done so, you would have found that

  • he makes no actual "accusations" of using mirrors and lenses - he simply points out that it is the most likely explanation of the abrupt shift to near-photograpic realism that happens within a single decade in the 1430's;
  • he backs up the theory that this was achieved with the aid of mirrors and lenses with a very large number of examples of precisly such effects as you'd expect from use of mirrors and lenses : lots of left-handers, distorted perspectives, skewed proportions, and photocopier-exact copies and enlargements;
  • he also backs up the theory that lenses were used by many major and minor masters by pointing out the astonishing difference in quality between sketches and finished works, the complete absence of any sketches by some masters, and the scarcity or absence of any underdrawing in, say, Hals' superb paintings;
  • he points to the very suggestive fact that mirror and lens makers were in the same guilds with artists - and quotes a number of works describing the use of mirror/lens aided drawing and painting;
  • he explicitly states that he does not know which masters did or did not use the mirror/lens technology, but that the hyperrealism that became possible would have influenced even those who used no mirrors/lenses because that's what the customers would want (his example of an artist who DH believes could most likely draw and paint "photographically" WITHOUT technological aids is Leonardo);
  • he repeatedly and emphatically states that it is only those who know nothing about drawing and painting that would think less of an artist because he used lenses, mirrors or cameras, whether obscuras or lucidas. Mark-making to "render" the picture takes a skilled artist any day, and going beyond mere "rendering" to breathe life and soul into the rendering takes a great artist (DHs example here is Rembrandt);
In the final pages of his book, DH relates an episode where he listened to the despair of an aspiring artist who considered the achievements of the masters utterly beyond him. Part of the reason for this despair is the fact that open and honest examination and teaching of the technique of art is largely suppressed by the attitude that the masters were masters because of some God-given ability that mere mortals (such as aspiring artists) can only revere, not understand, or - God forbid! - emulate.

Given the fact that ARC is working so hard precisely to enable aspiring artists to learn the craft of art, the ARC seems to me to express extreme double standards in this debate : on the one hand, you are struggling to open the public mind to and open and honest appraisal of modern art (or the lack of it), on the other, you retreat into sectarianism when this honesty and openness is applied to your own sacred ground.

As the ARC openly - and courageously - describes the use of lucidas and cameras in several articles elsewhere, I simply don't understand why DH should be dragged to the stake like this. The ARC wants to educate the public to realize and admire the skill and art in realistic painting - DH is in total agreement with you on this.

DH does not, however, share the ARC's reverence for Bougereau, or your preference for realistic art. A serious art movement (which I hope the ARC considers itself), should be above ridiculing unpopular tastes and opinions, and stick to sound knowledge and argument instead. Otherwise, the only difference between the ARC and the modernists will be their taste in pictures, nothing else. This contradicts your own mission statement "to maintain honesty and frankness in our interaction with everyone, regardless of predisposition."

My admiration for the achievements of the ARC in bringing knowledge, respect and galleries of the skill and art of painting to us all remains undiminished, but I fear that pieces like Hockney... is destroying your credibility to the very "outsiders" or "as-yet-nonbelievers" that you would want to educate.


Thomas Hauge