Two articles on what's wrong with David Hockney's theories of optics in art, and what's odd about the interest they attracted.


Two screenshots from the essay given at the Hockney conference, as it was posted on Webexhibits (2009). Part of the lecture included some drawigs of a lute I had made, to demonstrate that no special skill, and no special knowledge or optics, is needed to draw the kinds of objects Hockney was studying.


(Unfortunately the original drawings, which were very detailed, are lost. Larger images can be seen in part two of the talk.) One of the difficulties with Hockney's way of thinking is that it assumes artists need help to make certain kinds of naturalistic pictures.

David Hockney's Theories

Two essays (2001, 2002).

I am unconvinced by most of Hockney's theories, and amazed at the interest they generated in the media at the time his book appeared. The media reaction was overwhelmingly positive: it almost seemed as if it was a relief for some people to discover the "secret" (the word is in the title of Hockney's book) of the Old Masters, which would relieve viewers of the need to study the art. The NYU conference in 2001 was mainly preoccupied with arguments about the specifics of Hockney's claims. That kind of technical interest has long been a part of the study of perspective and optics, and has long been marginal to the study of wider cultural meanings. The entire event and reactions were tremendously depressing.

There are three papers involved:

1. The published essay is a brief review of the conference held at NYU.  It was published in Circa 99 (spring 2002): 38.
2. A version of the paper I gave at that conference was posted online (here in two parts).
3. There is also formal review of Hockney and Falco's Secret Knowledge (New York: Viking, 2001), on the College Art Association review site, which is unfortunately (and, I think, misguidedly) password-protected.



(These three texts comprise all I have to say on the subject. Inquiries about perspective and painting may not be answered.)