Saturday, 22 October 2011

Optics

David Hockney has this thing, explored at length in his book Secret Knowledge, about the use of optics by the Old Masters. When you look at his evidence, it's obvious that he's right. Lenses and projected images have been around for a long time, and it would be an odd artist who wasn't intrigued by them or who refused to take advantage of them.

At this time of year in northern latitudes, as the low angle of the rising sun comes later in the day and coincides with the rising of those of us lucky enough to have jobs to go to, projected images are everywhere. It makes you very aware of how photography must have been prefigured, in principle, for hundreds of years before anyone figured out how to do it.







Talking of optics and old masters, if you know the poem "Self Portrait in a Convex Mirror" by John Ashbery, and the painting by Parmigianino on which it is based, consider the poem's opening lines:

As Parmigianino did it, the right hand
Bigger than the head, thrust at the viewer
And swerving easily away, as though to protect
What it advertises. A few leaded panes, old beams,
Fur, pleated muslin, a coral ring run together
In a movement supporting the face, which swims
Toward and away like the hand
Except that it is in repose.

Now consider the painting:




Um, right hand?? It strikes me someone should have had a quiet word with Mr. Ashbery before the poem was published. Too late now.

7 comments:

Martin said...

I suppose it may have been a reference to the 'right' hand being the 'correct' hand? Nah!

Mike C. said...

It's a Grade A puzzle. This is a major poem by a major poet, yet it contains this absurd flaw.

It's not as if the properties of mirrors are not explored later in the poem:

because/Fed by our dreams, so inconsequential until one day/We notice the hole they left. Now their importance/If not their meaning is plain. They were to nourish/A dream which includes them all, as they are/Finally reversed in the accumulating mirror.

You either ignore it, explain it away, or end up feeling like one of those guys that can't enjoy a film because an anachronistic model of rifle is being used by the troops...

Mike

Bronislaus Janulis said...

Hockney's contention/theory goes too far, as I'm sure artists "played" with lenses, but all of their work is tracing. PFUI! And using Ingres as one of his examples is strange, Ingres is known for the distortions in his figures. The theory of different viewpoints being from optical aids, overlooks the stylistic devices of used as a means of storytelling; of weighting aspects of the painting, not
because of an optical aid.

As to the verbal distortions, ignore it.

Bron

Mike C. said...

Well, he convinced me, but I'm easily convinced. I think part of the argument is that the use of a camera lucida, or something very like it, explains *why* Ingres figures are often distorted.

The camera lucida is fun -- I had the chance to try one, and once you get the hang of it it really does help get things onto paper quickly and accurately (as seen -- and distorted -- through a lens). A lot of scientific illustration is done this way.

Mike

Bronislaus Janulis said...

Ingres must have had a very special lens, producing those round faces, figures, with the sloping shoulders, and the elongated necks. Vemeer's highlights do have a "lensian" quality, but to conclude from that, that he "traced" all of his work from a lens seems a great leap of logic.
Drawing is an acquired skill, once considered a part of a classical education. That a contemporary artist, full of guilty regret over not having acquired an artististic basic skill, and then to produce a theory of conspiracies; an artistic secret guild, to prove that nobody could draw, but needed "help".
Absurd! Many artists use photos as sketches, many work directly from the source; neither is better, as the final product is what counts.

Mike C. said...

Bron,

I hate to disagree, but Hockney is IMHO one of the best draughstmen of the 20th century -- there's nothing he doesn't know about drawing. He's not accusing anybody of "cheating".

As a reasonably skilled drawer myself, I know how much time can be saved by the use of such aids -- if you're a professional, any shortcut is to be welcomed. I bet you don't judge your right angles and mitres by eye, even though you probably could...

Mike

Bronislaus Janulis said...

Mike,

In the reading I've done on Hockney's theory, I've come across several references implying that he wasn't "comfortable" with his skill level compared to others. Thus, the quest.

You like him; I've never felt much connection with his work, though I've read a lot about his theories, and him, as I was interested in his views on perspective, though I mostly disagree with his theory on the use of optical aids.

Just my opinion.