From Dr David G. Stork.

Sir, Artist David Hockney (“The mass media has lost its perspective”, Comment, October 27) mentions his book Secret Knowledge, which claimed some artists as early as 1420 secretly traced optical projections on to their canvas, and laments that most art historians “ignored it”. A better explanation is that numerous international scholars from optical science, technical image analysis, history of technology and of art, and leading artists themselves have shown that his bold thesis simply cannot be supported. One need not rely on technology to get the realism or “optical look” in the ars nova of that time. Nor, too, has western art been “defined” by geometrical perspective. Ever since Brunelleschi’s discovery of the laws of perspective, perspective art has come under scrutiny and outright rejection in the west – most explicitly in 17th-century anamorphic perspectives, “impossible” figures (à la M.C. Escher), by several types of holography, simultaneous multi-camera cinema, mobile interactive displays and even Saturday morning cartoons.

It is natural for an artist to be concerned about how recent technology might enhance the expressive tools of artists, but we scholars of art are equally intrigued by new technology for analysis and understanding of art. For example, I and colleagues have used the face recognition technology used by Facebook to search Renaissance art for portraits depicting Leonardo; we’ve used sophisticated computer methods developed to detect tampering with photographs to better understand how old masters executed their paintings, and so on.

These technological methods do not replace a tutored, connoisseur’s eye, but instead enhance and extend it, much as a microscope aids a biologist. This work may bring a new era of digital connoisseurship, revolutionising our understanding of art far beyond just the topic of perspective that so fascinates Mr Hockney.

David G. Stork, Portola Valley, CA, US

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