Yesterday, to steal a phrase from a noted radio commentator, I presented the "rest of the story" regarding David Hockney's theory of art history and the effect (if any) optical drawing devices may have upon how we see some pretty prominent painters. Gary Faigin presents a number of important points refuting much of what Hockney suggests. But inasmuch as the key elements in Hockney's theory rely on visual evidence, it's not unreasonable that we should each look at the works and artists he mentioned both before and after the advent of ground lenses around 1600. I've done some comparisons such as this. So today, to add to Paul Harvey's words, here's the "rest of the rest of the story."
It would appear that Hockney does have some grounds for his theory, especially in the area of portraiture and genre. But, there is a lot of validity to the points Faigin makes as well. My guess is the truth lies somewhere in between. Just as today, many artist use optics (read photographic projection) as a drawing aid; likewise, many don't, for a variety of reasons (some philosophical, some artistic, some technical). I don't doubt that in the past, they were a closely guarded secret amongst those who may have used them. It's still somewhat that way today. But Hockney may be casting his historical net too broadly in some cases for the reasons Faigin cites.
It's hard to know how much we see on canvas is virtuosity and how much is technology, then as now. But in studying works painted on canvas in the hundred years before 1600 and those after that date, I can see some surprising improvements in the general drawing skills of quite a number of artist around 1600. There's compelling visual evidence of this change not just in the artists Hockney cites, but in the work of a substantial number of others as well. For hundreds of years before this date AND in the centuries following it, improvements in drawing skill are quite minor and very gradual. But in between, there's this "bump." I find it hard to account for the sudden improvements that happened around 1600 by any other means other than optical aids.
Having said that, I should also note that Hockney's point is to bring these drawing methods to light so as to legitimize them in the public eye. And in so doing, as Faigin points out, he also legitimizes his own drawing methods as well. Hockney may be lecturing the art world regarding his theory but his intended audience is much broader than that. He's simply using art history as a tool in doing so. In effect, he's saying, if Caravaggio did it, then why should anyone be concerned whether artists today employ optical drawing aids. Of course, even without Caravaggio, he has a good point.
I don't know if Faigin has an ulterior motive in rebutting Hockney's theory or not. Perhaps so, inasmuch as he runs a painting academy for Realist painters, which no doubts emphasizes greatly eye-hand coordination exercises in their drawing classes, perhaps to the exclusion of photographic techniques. He might well lose a lot of student class time if all his students, influenced by Hockney's theory, began projecting their drawings and using photographic techniques rather than concentrating on the time-honored and (class) time consuming efforts to sharpen their drawing skills to the degree necessary not to need such devices. Now that I think about it, maybe BOTH men have self-serving axes to grind.