The two questions that should be asked regarding David Hockney’s video, Secret Knowledge are: 1. Does Hockney make a compelling argument that optics were used in the examples of paintings presented in the video? 2. If so, what are the implications? To address the first question; I do feel Hockney made a very compelling argument for the idea that optics were used. This comes as not much of as surprise as even in Aristotle’s time people knew a pinhole could form an image. The only unanswered question for me is: where is the primary documentation? I can understand that artists may be secretive about divulging their techniques and particularly so when this might have been thought of as “cutting edge” (or perhaps of a dubious nature). Even so, not to have any documentation seems odd. Art is not created in a vacuum and the artist is, very often, not the only person around during its creation. There can be models, patrons, apprentices’ and various other people gathered around. It seems somewhat unlikely that no one would take note of this strange technique. Even with this caveat I am inclined to be persuaded by Hockney’s evidence.
If this is indeed true, then what are the implications? There will be those that feel like they have been tricked; that the masters that they held in high esteem are somehow lessened. I am inclined to not take that point of view. Artists have always used what they thought were the best tools and techniques to create their art. Whether it is a type of brush, a paint formula or an optical device, these are all just tools. When photography first came along, many, if not most people argued that photography could never be an art form because it was just a reproduction. Today you would be hard pressed to find very many people that still hold that point of view. It is the creation and not the tools that make a piece of art compelling.