Secret Knowledge: Rediscovering the lost techniques of the Old Masters (60th Anniversary Edition) Paperback – 5 May 2009
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David Hockney's brilliant Secret Knowledge is the fruit of his practical and historical investigation into how artists from the 15th century onward produced such vividly realistic drawings and paintings. Hockney's conclusions are simple but devastating. He argues that, "from the early 15th century many Western artists used optics--by which I mean mirrors and lenses (or a combination of the two)--to create living projections". The results are extraordinary. Secret Knowledge carefully explains how Masaccio, Van Eyck, Holbein, Caravaggio, Vermeer and Ingres all used optical aids, as it carefully takes apart the paintings and recreates the instruments and techniques used by artists from as early as the 1430s.
Hockney concedes that his opinions have been attacked by the mainstream art world that has complained that "for an artist to use optical aids would be 'cheating'; that somehow I was attacking the idea of innate genius". As a practising artist himself, his response is persuasive: "optics would have given artists a new tool with which to make images that were more immediate, and more powerful". Hockney concludes that this does not "diminish their achievements. For me, it makes them all the more astounding". Hockney's evidence is compelling and convincing, and brilliantly conveyed in this beautiful book, complete with details, foldouts and over 400 illustrations in sumptuous colour. Secret Knowledge also contains a collection of primary evidence detailing artist's use of optical devices, and Hockney's correspondence on the subject over the last two years. This book will revolutionise how we look at the art of the past. As Hockney himself suggests, "exciting times are ahead". --Jerry Brotton --This text refers to an alternate Paperback edition.
`The publishing house has rarely put a foot wrong in its 60-year history' -- GQ
`You will refer back to these precious books again and again'
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Top Customer Reviews
Why has all this come out now? Partly because the Old Masters were guild members and, for purely commercial reasons never revealed the tricks of their trade. They were too valuable. And partly because Hockney, ever the persistent and gleeful iconoclast, smelled a rat. Why were Ingres' exquisite pencil portraits so small, all the same size, so accurate and so quickly executed? How come Vermeer's paintings were so mathematically precise that a computer can exactly recreate his studio from the measurements taken from them? Why did so many Old Masters make very obvious errors in human anatomical proportion? Why did it all start in 1430 AD? In a riveting account Hockney describes his two-year journey to the certain realisation that it was all down to optics. He also shows that optics, in a tyranny of cold one-eyed precision, dominated European art for 500 years. Impressionism and, later, Modern art liberated it.Read more ›
Nevertheless, the arguments about moving vanishing points, inconsistent perspective, left handed prevalences, optical distortions completely accurately rendered and so on are not going to just go away. They are well thought out, tightly argued and well illustrated (and were completely new to me!). It seems obvious with this in mind that any artist making a living from his skill would be very stupid not to use a tool to enhance the realism of his work and cut the time needed to churn these portraits out. Hockney entertainingly shows how this process had to include the use of lenses and mirrors.
More to the point, the use of such aids does not diminish the painters' skill. Their style is always recognisable and painters today would be hard pressed to create anything comparable. But it helps to know how human beings managed, in some cases, to achieve impossible levels of observational accuracy. So after a lifetime of interest in drawing, I immediately ordered a camera lucida to try it for myself!
A great read! Buy it!
However, to see David Hockney's viewpoint on the matter I think it helps greatly if you have spent years and years of hard work developing your observational skills as a painter and draughtsman and you are not afraid to use the technology at your fingertips in your work, then I think you can completely understand your peers of centuries past.
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.Read more ›
Most Recent Customer Reviews
Truly a fascinating read. Well done to David for opening our eyes to how some artists made use of optics, as helpful drawing and painting aids, in achieving added realism in their... Read morePublished 1 month ago by Mark Woollacott
Excellent book, well worth the price I paid and superb condition.Published 5 months ago by Amazon Customer
Very enlightening. This would have been so useful for my history of art studies.Published 7 months ago by CAC
I bought this as a Christmas gift for someone who has an interest in art but is not very familiar with it. It was very well received! Read morePublished 7 months ago by orangeade
A revolutionary book on renaissance painting. A must read for any seriuous art historian. Today the proof of renaissance painters using optical devices to achieve their astonishing... Read morePublished 9 months ago by Wilbert
Both revolutionary and well supported by evidence and experiment.Published 12 months ago by Chris Malcolm