Sunday, January 07, 2018

Hockney on Art

Rembrandt’s drawings aren’t that big, because paper was expensive.

He had to use every bit. When they are reproduced small you don‘t 

necessarily catch everything, but if you see them blown up, then 

look again, you notice more. You see the sheer beauty of the drawing 

The quality of brush marks and pen marks is something everyone gets.


Everything that can be said about marks made with pen, charcoal, pencil, chalk or any graphic medium, applies just as much to strokes made with the brush and paint. Painting is a matter of drawing, too, as is sometimes quite obvious. If you look closely at a fresco by Giambattista Tiepolo, father of Giandomenico, it is easy to see how he was drawing with virtuoso fluency in paint on the fresh plaster of the wall or ceiling. 

At a certain point, however, the brushstroke began to be hidden in paintings, or, at any rate, in ones that were acceptable from the academic point of view. John Constable was told by his mentor, Joseph Farington a senior member of the Royal Academy of Arts that Constable himself would stand a better chance of becoming an academician if his work had more ‘finish’. He informed Constable as much at breakfast in the summer of 1814. ‘I told him the objection made to his pictures was their being unfinished.’ Other painters and critics made the same point. 

They meant the brushstrokes shouldn’t be so evident. What happened in the late 18th century was the elimination of the brushstroke. 

I believe that was because the images seen in a camera obscura had come to be taken as the standard of reality. I refer to the camera image, either in a camera obscura or chemically fixed in a photograph, as the optical projection of nature because that’s what a camera does. By the mid-19th century the smooth surface derived from the photograph had become general in what we call academic painting the pictures that were shown at the Royal Academy in London or the Salon in Paris. 

When Manet began painting in the 1850's and 1860's the brushstroke came back, and awkwardness returned. It dawned on me when I saw an exhibition of academic French painting from the 19th century that this is what Manet and his allies were against. They won the battle: lively painting against dull. 

I’ve noticed that a lot of paintings from the 1960s don’t look as interesting as they did when they were done. Roy Lichtenstein’s pictures. for example, feel more like design or something. I think the Warhols stand up a lot better. They have a lot more hand in them, of course...even when he’s silk-screening the pictures; his hand does the colour underneath. 

Oil paint lends itself to blending far more than fresco or tempera. Masaceio docs blend colours in the Erancacci chapel. but the fresco medium he used is like acrylic where you have to use little linear techniques to achieve this. 

It is interesting that shadows are almost exclusively European. Few have pointed it out. Most art historians, who are Europe-centered don’t realize that there are virtually no shadows in Chinese art, nor Persian or Japanese. They are one of the things that make the major difference between Western art and the art of anywhere else. They are incredibly important. 

 It is true that shadows are seldom seen outside Western art. and where they are as in the faint shading visible in the murals of the Ajanta Caves in India they may represent an echo, equally faint. of ancient Greek art carried eastwards by the armies of Alexander the Great. 

Portraiture. according to the Roman author Pliny the Elder writing in the 1st century, began with a shadow. Where it started. He admits we have ‘no certain knowledge‘ the Egyptians affirm that it was invented among themselves. six thousand years before.

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