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mrevans.holywell@virgin.net (Holywell, North Wales, UK)

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Secret Knowledge: Rediscovering the Lost Techniques of the Old Masters
Secret Knowledge: Rediscovering the Lost Techniques of the Old Masters
by David Hockney
Edition: Hardcover

166 of 173 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A revolutionary view of European Art History., 14 Oct. 2001
This is a seismic publication. It will rock the art world right down to its foundations. Hockney blows the lid clean off the secret practices of the Old Masters. He shows, with stunning clarity, that conventional European art historians have simply never understood the central and defining importance of optics - the cameras (obscura and lucida), mirrors and lenses that were all used to project images only flat surfaces. These made for very accurate painting. Artists liked it - so much easier and quicker. Clients liked it - so life-like, so real and so desirable. It was optics that made possible the uncanny, almost superhuman precision of Caravaggio, Canaletto, Vermeer, Holbein, Velazquez and many, many others. Not all the old masters used it, but most did and the rest were certainly influenced by it. Optics created realism in European visual art.
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. So now visual art can once again be human, eccentric, two-eyed and wonky.
Secret Knowledge is a big book and it's not cheap. But it's worth it. Fully half of it is devoted to beautiful, full colour reproductions of the great art works that Hockey uses to demonstrate his argument. His writing is not at all academic. It is crystal clear, cheerful, blunt, engaging, honest and totally persuasive.

Visual Intelligence: How We Create What We See
Visual Intelligence: How We Create What We See
by Donald D Hoffman
Edition: Paperback
Price: £15.88

39 of 43 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Outlines the 35 rules whereby we create what we see, 6 Oct. 2001
This is a ground breaking book. Hoffman proposes that seeing is a creative act of intelligence and that we literally create the visual world we live in. He explains, with persuasive clarity, that this ability is innate. We are born visually competent and that all we need to acquire visual skill is to see. Seeing is not something we learn to do, it is something we grow to do.
Hoffman shows that the image at the eye is two dimensional, not, as many people believe, three dimensional. He further shows that the visual cortex, according to certain rules, converts that 2D image into a 3D image. Hoffman describes these rules simply and clearly and with more than ample illustration. In all Hoffman describes 35 rules, most of which concern how we convert a 2D image at the retina into a 3D image in the brain. He also deals with some aspects of seeing motion.
In many ways Visual Intelligence makes a break with the traditional ways of dealing with visual perception. He comes at it from cognitive science rather than the older perspectives of psychology. For this reason this book is both powerful and up to date. Although Hoffman makes only passing reference to visual art what he has to say about how we see is hugely relevant to the work of artists who work in 2D media.

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