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7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars ENVY AND JEALOUSY, 4 April 2012
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This review is from: Secret Knowledge: Rediscovering the lost techniques of the Old Masters (Paperback)
The art world is well known for the prevalence of jealousy and envy among artists for the more successful among them. It's understandable, as many hard working, highly skilled artists are ignored while others, equally or even less skilled, become world famous, either by accident or because of superior marketing skills. For example, one often STILL reads that Picasso or Dali could not draw or even paint "properly", in spite of the fact that several world-travelled exhibitions of their works have featured early drawings and paintings by both artists showing draughtsmanship skills of the highest order and the ability to produce skilful representational paintings. In both cases, however, as they grew up and developed, they chose to take a different path and be judged by the results. Hockney has joined this exclusive group and produces uniquely stylised paintings, instantly recognisable, only because of the skills acquired in his classic training in drawing and painting, honed by hard work, dedication and long experience.

Life is unfair. Hockney has become a National Treasure, because he is an excellent artist, but also, perhaps, because he has not only survived to a ripe old age but achieved "grumpy but lovable old fart" status. Yet many of his contemporaries, equally skilled, are completely unknown or known only to a few knowledgable fellow artists.

Of course Hockney can draw. Anyone who says he cannot draw or paint "properly" is either blinded by professional jealousy or simply does not know what he is talking about. There is ample evidence on record in his published work. His teenage paintings and drawings show ample evidence of a great artist in the making. His few representational portraits, throughout his career, as well as many conventional pencil and colour pencil drawings, are clear evidence of classic drawing and painting skills. I am a particular admirer of his charcoal drawings, which show a remarkable ability to convey softness and tonal range as well as the high contrast and hard edges more typical of this medium.

As for his theories on the use of optical aids by great artists of the past, there can be little doubt that leading artists have, when required, used every aid technically available to achieve precision when needed - and why not? Grids, shadowgraphs and the camera lucida are techniques which would have been fascinating and irresistable to a skilled artist seeking to perfect his craft. Such techniques are taught in the better art schools alongside the more traditional skill of draughtsmanship.

It is also unarguably true that some great artists have, by hard work and enormous dedication, achieved the ability to reproduce the three-dimensional world they see onto a two-dimensional surface with extraordinary perceptual skill, so as to make the image appear convincingly accurate, without the use of instrumental aids. Some of Hockney's early paintings show that he was quite competent at that when he wanted to be.

Whether particular artists used optical aids to the full extent hypothesised by Hockney cannot now be known for sure. Nor is the Scientific American article a definitive "debunking" as claimed. It is a contrary opinion as subjective as Hockney's. We shall never know for sure, but the single-minded skilled professional striving for perfection is not something that has appeared only in the last century, and I suspect Hockney's theory, if not 100% correct, is nearer the truth than the denials of his critics.

This book is a fascinating exposition of some of the clever techniques the Old Masters could have used, and probably, in many cases, did use to achieve their extraordinary results. In no way does it denigrate their skills - on the contrary, it shows the amount of study and research needed to become a great artist. If you are interested in the craft of painting, this is required reading.
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Showing 1-3 of 3 posts in this discussion
Initial post: 23 Mar 2015 13:11:14 GMT
Re. 'Of course Hockney can draw'. I'm a huge fan of H, and would defend and praise his work to anyone, so am not motivated by envy in asserting that H is weak at SOME aspects of drawing. If you consider, for instance, the lovely drawings (seated portraits) of friends, you notice huge success in the face and posture and mood, but the hands mostly look like groups of carrots. Ditto feet, which in the famous Mr and Mrs Clark paining he hid in the carpet to avoid the problem. Never mind - he's still great. And forever finding some new angle.

Posted on 22 Apr 2015 16:53:14 BDT
I believe you (and whoever you are reading) are incorrect in saying "Picasso or Dali could not draw or even paint properly"; Of course Picasso could draw (and paint) "properly". Take a trip to the Picasso museum in Barcelona (or google it) and you will see early works by Picasso; as young as 13 he was producing impeccably realistic paintings a la the great masters! He was bored with this style quite young (his father, an art teacher, had him paining in nappies) and rebelled thus becoming expelled from art school only to go his on way and develop his own style of art/painting.
Dali (and Miro) were the same! They were all classically trained and could draw and paint as well as anyone. However, as was done in the time they diverged from this old style in order to "liberate art".

In reply to an earlier post on 23 Apr 2015 04:42:22 BDT
Last edited by the author on 23 Apr 2015 04:53:18 BDT
pfvll says:
Andrew, if you read my comment more carefully, you will see that I have written exactly what you point out in your posting.

My point was "For example, one often STILL reads that Picasso or Dali could not draw or even paint "properly", in spite of the fact that several world-travelled exhibitions of their works have featured early drawings and paintings by both artists showing draughtsmanship skills of the highest order ".

I did not mention Miro only because I am less familiar with his life and total output, but I'm sure you are right about him as well.

So we are in agreement, which is, for me, a rare and agreeable situation.

Thank you for your comment.
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