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Secret Knowledge

Secret Knowledge: Rediscovering the Lost Techniques of the Old Masters (2006)


One of America’s great modern artists David Hockney set out on a project a number of years ago. It started when he started noticing unusual changes in paintings in the 15th century. The changes invaded the talent of many artists of the Renaisannce. It was a talent to almost photo-realistically reproduce the outside world. A huge jump in painting at the time. Yet, was it a jump in painting or the use of optics in painting? By collecting photos of paintings from the great masters of the Renaissance on a 70 foot wall, Hockey began to understand that a device called a Camera Lucida was used to create many famous paintings. Vermeer expecially used the technique.

The book is followed by other investigators into the use of the device in creating much of Renaissance art. There is the documentary film called Tim’s Vermeer financed in part by the famous comedy team of Penn & Teller. There is the current popular art device called The Lucy that uses methods used by masters in creating their art.

Not too surprising, the art community has not offered a very warm reception to the theories of David Hockney. He threatens to attack a grand bastion of culture: paintings of the masters around the 15th Century and the Renaissance. He provides almost overwhelming evidence that many of the great paintings were made using an optical device that projected the scene onto a surface on which an artist painted. The documentary film Tim’s Vermeer is about a famous Vermeer painting done with this method of painting.

It wasn’t exactly a paint by numbers scheme but the world was much easier to replicate using the device that put an image onto a canvas. Portraits were popular and the new realism of the person in the portrait often startled the person in the portrait as well as viewing audiences of the portrait.

In a real sense, he has tossed a heavy monkey wrench into the heart of the machinery of art today. Everyone yells “No more fake news!” but perhaps the yells should also be “No more fake art.”

* * *

I’ve taken fake news for a number of years now. Perhaps more than I realize.

I can get along with it and accept that reality exists somewhere between the two political versions of the world today. Much more than politics. More like philosophies of life.

But when it gets down to fake art, this is where I draw the line.

Will the importance of this brilliant art book ever be acknowledged?

It doesn’t look as if acknolwdgement is coming from art museums, schools, auction houses. Really no where in the art industry and specifically the art of the Renaisannce. This is the major period the detective work of David Hockney is focused on.



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