Toward an evaluation of David Hockney's new theories regarding opticality in western painting of the past 600 years...
This web site discusses a startling new theory being advanced by world renowned artist David Hockney, working in collaboration with University of Arizona physicist Charles Falco, to the effect that, as far back as the 1420s, Master Painters in the High Tradition were deploying optical devices to render lifelike images of people and their surroundings. This web site brings together Hockney, Falco, and their principal supporters and skeptics among art and science historians, critics, scientists and painters for the first full public airing of their views.
Most art historians believe the majority of European painters since the Italian Renaissance deployed elaborate systems of mathematical perspective to achieve their effects. Over the past several years, however, Hockney and Falco have been arguing that, on the contrary, most artists in the High Tradition, going all the way back to Bruges in the 1420s, were deploying a variety of optical devices (ranging from concave mirrors through lenses and cameras obscura and lucida). In effect they suggest that painters (from Van Eyck through Caravaggio, Lotto, Velazquez, Vermeer, Chardin, Ingres, etc.) were using precursors of photographic cameras for centuries before the invention of chemical fixatives in 1839; and that it was only with the spread of such chemical fixatives that European painters, suddenly disenchanted with the "optical look," began to undertake the critique of photography implicit in impressionism, expressionism and cubism and the rest of the modernist tradition.
Needless to say, these claims (up till now mainly advanced in peer-reviewed scientific journals) are highly controversial: if true, they would have far-reaching ramifications upon our understanding of art. Public awareness of this new interpretation will become even more widespread with the publication in Fall 2001 of Hockney's exposition of his thesis, Secret Knowledge: Rediscovering the Lost Techniques of the Old Masters.