Lately many of the threads here have subtexts that imply or directly comment on the possible use of Camera Obscura or Camera Lucida by the old masters. So far I've avoided comments on this due to the emotions involved but today I did respond to one. George asked me to start a thread on this topic and so I have and moved my post here.
I have few if any problems believing that Vermeer used a camera obscura but Caravaggio is another story. Although I have yet to make up my mind I am quite skeptical. This book here looks to be of some interest but I have not bought it yet (search for 'Painted Optics Symposium').
From my long ago reading of Hockney I came away with a few thoughts.
-The first was that I was left wanting by looking at Hockney's own drawings. I see little evidence of his having had much representational training. Should this automatically negate his ideas? No, but I'd be far more open minded if an accomplished draughtsman came up with all of this. One must acknowledge that Hockney’s own goals as an artist are clearly not the same as those of the artists he discusses so my comment is not meant to denigrate him or his work. It’s merely and dispassionately calling a spade a spade. Still, in the back of my mind I have a nagging sense that at least some of this is not unlike the emperor’s new cloths.
-Second, I felt that he overreached. The impression I got was that he believes all artists from the dawn of the optical-lens age to the invention of the modern camera used either an obscura or lucida. I find that very hard to believe.
-Third, I came away thinking that his unwritten premise was that no one could draw realistically without mechanical aids. Perhaps I ‘read into’ his statements but if they are true then they are also bogus. I personally know dozens of professional artists who can draw up to Old Master levels and none of these use mechanical aids or even photo reference.
-Fourth, and this relates to the third, is that a lack of preparatory drawings is seen as evidence of mechanical use. Again, I know artists (myself included) who do not make preparatory drawings but go straight to the canvas in paint, and with multi-figure compositions as well. Of course I am no Caravaggio but I hold my own. My point is not to laud myself but to confirm that it is not only possible but is currently being successfully done.
With all that said I should add that I too agree with something Kenneth shared awhile ago. Proof of the use of mechanics would not taint my opinion of these artists and this includes those who use photo reference today. Art viewed as solely a means of self expression is a relatively new thing IMO and prior to that it was a business. If something could speed up or ease production then what business would turn it down? I know I’d get more commissions if I used photos. In my case though it’s an aesthetic decision because I find that my from-life work surpasses my efforts using a photo and back when I was trying it I found that I really hated the process. I can connect with a model but not with a photo. That’s just me.
I should probably buy Hockney's updated book but I generally have problems with books that have the word 'secret' in their titles.
Bart, as to your last comment, I agree. The photo, whether print, TV, cinema or computer has tainted society's vision. Some of the degradation is likely unrecoverable but I believe that other aspects are not lost forever but are capable of being accessed through the proper training.
[ 14. January 2010, 13:35: Message edited by: Darren ]