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Secret Knowledge (New and Expanded Edition): Rediscovering the Lost Techniques of the Old Masters Paperback – October 5, 2006
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British painter David Hockney, well known for his cool and lovely paintings of California pools, has taken on the new role of detective. For two years Hockney seriously investigated the painting techniques of the old masters, and like any admirable sleuth, compiled substantial evidence to support his revolutionary theory. Secret Knowledge is the fruit of this labor, an exhaustive treatise in pictures revealing clues that some of the world's most famous painters, Ingres, Velázquez, Caravaggio (just to mention a few) utilized optics and lenses in creating their masterpieces. Hockney's fascination with the subject is contagious, and the book feels almost like a game with each analysis a "How'd they do that?" instead of a whodunit. While some may find the technical revelation a disappointment in terms of the idea of genius, Hockney is quick to point out that the use of optics does not diminish the immensity of artistic achievement. He reminds the reader that a tool is just a tool, and it is still the artist's hand and creative vision that produce a work of art. (296 pages, 460 illustrations, 402 in color.) --J.P. Cohen --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
When looking at pictures, one can have no more stimulating and provocative companion than Hockney. ("The Times Literary Supplement", London)
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Top Customer Reviews
Even though I knew about many of the mechanical drawing apparatuses that have been employed at various times throughout history, Hockney explains them so well and shows so many examples that I feel as though I am learning about them anew. I was also intrigued that he touched upon one of the things that has forever intrigued me - why a reversed image looks so different from the original and that seeing an image one way and be infinitely more pleasing than seeing it reversed. He goes into much detail about this, and shows multiple examples, when he ponders over the high numbers of left-handed subjects in many old paintings. And that is just for starters.
The number of visuals in this book rivals any that I have seen and, even though I have not counted, it certainly appears that visual examples outnumber text blocks by quite a bit. The visuals accompanying Holbein's "The Ambassadors" show exactly what so many people miss about it, and illustrates why the painting is mounted in such a way that makes it possible to view from the upper right corner. If you sit in that room in the National Gallery, you will notice that hardly anyone ever walks to that spot and looks - they have no idea what fun they are missing!
On a personal note, it was delightful to read that Hockney has the same fascination with the Arnolfini portrait as I, and doubtless many other people, do, and also to learn why. And I think that's what art lovers will like most about this book - that they have occasionally noticed the same exact details that a great artist has also seen, and that indeed is a very exciting thing.
Shortening a very long personal story, I've always thought that descriptions of art have been almost to a word, pure bs. As a technical writer and illustrator, I'm well aware that artists search for techniques that improve the looks of their products, as well as reveal how competitors were able to do what I could not. I am also aware of keylining (tracing key lines) and how that plays a role in masterpieces (check out the work of Norman Rockwell). Note that Hockney, who is British, uses the phrase "making their marks" in place of "keylining.")
Paintings (drawings, prints, etc.) are graphic stories. The artists who make them are directors, story tellers, technicians, and producers. While I know that stunning work can be created "freehand" (heck, I've done it), the type of photo-realistic work discussed in the book work is accomplished via keylines.
Hockney's belief is that some of the great masters (named in the book) used technology to enhance their work. He started researching the subject in 1999 and published the first book in 2001, revised in 2005 (I believe). During the 2000s, other people started publishing the history of image production on the web. I'm sure there was information like this available to Hockney, however, what appears on the web today is absolutely startling, especially when consulted in conjunction with Hockney's work. Feel free to email me if you'd like the links (I believe there are some restrictions on embedding links in these reviews.)
Now, what Hockney does is help you see clearly and believe your own eyes. He does that by providing large prints accompanied by concise descriptions that point out his observations on a feature-by-feature basis. Once you begin to see how the story lines behind these paintings were constructed, it will change the way you look at art, especially photo-realistic art. AND this change won't stop when you finish the book. It'll linger in your thought process, enlivening your life forever with fresh insights about the past and what it looked like.
Written in David's words the book is easy to digest and has no typical stuffy academic hubbub surrounding it. He is witty and informative making the book a pleasure to read.
The book is a paperback and I wish I had a hardcover now, oh well. That said though the print quality is good and the paper stock is nice. Well laid out which helps you race through the content.
A great book from a great man. Perfect for every student of art today.
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