Drawing Tool or Trickery?
The camera lucida is a drawing tool I’ve known about for years. But I didn’t know there was such controversy surrounding it–or that people felt so passionately about its historical use or lack thereof. Latin for “light room,” the camera lucida is a device used to help artists draw and render by superimposing an image of an object onto a drawing surface so that you can see the subject and drawing surface at the same time. It helps an artist sketch complicated passages of a drawing or even make a contour line drawing of objects.
History and Hockney
And while the tool is not particularly well known or widely used now, documents going back to the 1600s describe the existence of a similar tool. Even commercial artists from the 1950s through the 1980s used a variation on the camera lucida because it provided a quick and accurate way of drawing.
But here’s where the real fight began. Several years ago, artist David Hockney asserted that many of the masters of Western art–Ingres, Jan Van Eyck, Caravaggio–used the camera lucida and other optical aids to help create their art, insinuating that the skillful realism so highly prized in art history was a sham. Gasp!
Is it fair to call it cheating?
Reactions were extreme. On one hand: boo, hiss, and a lot of umbrage about the idea that someone would claim that the Old Masters cheated their way to the art that we revere them for. On the other hand, artists were intrigued by the camera lucida. They wanted to know how to get their hands on one; many started experimenting with it.
I still love the work of the Old Masters. Clearly. The idea of them using tools to render doesn’t really doesn’t change the way I feel about it, though many scientists and historians have refuted Hockney’s claims. More importantly I don’t think that the paintings and drawings that belong in the Hall of Fame of Western civilization are so easily explained. There is a lot more to them than just good rendering.
To Each Their Own
The point is that the camera lucida is a tool, and every tool has its place. Many artists don’t use the camera lucida. I’ve never used one, which my poor drawing skills can attest to. But there are apparently many artists who believe there are merits to its application when it comes to drawing complicated perspectives and spatial relationships. I’m mostly intrigued by all the reactions the controversy over the camera lucida received, but it is interesting to know how it works and what it can do. The more I know, the better I feel I understand art and my place in it–no matter if I decide to use (or not use) that new knowledge or those tools in my work.
Know-How Is Always Good
If you feel the same way–that knowledge is power!–Composition & Design for Landscape Painting with Richard McKinley will be as informative for you as it was for me when it comes to discovering how to create a painting from the first stroke to the final one. No matter what you are searching for with your work, Composition & Design will give you such clarity when it comes to the aspects of your art that have the most impact on your success. It’s a resource–a tool–among many that you get to use to travel to new places with your art. Enjoy where it takes you!
P.S. What your thoughts are on the camera lucida and the idea that the Old Masters could have used this drawing tool? Have you used it? Would you? Leave a comment and let me know!