The Hockney’s Eye exhibition at The Fitzwilliam, which I visited recently has made me think about perspective a little more. It has been acknowledged by artists and art historians alike that Brunelleschi’s vanishing point perspective is flawed. The Renaissance masters such as Masaccio, however, found this tool invaluable for their architectural drawings and their church settings. It moved the thinking on from the eastern (Byzantine) view that the higher up something was in the picture frame the further away it was.
Cezanne and others started to question this view arguing that because we have two eyes and can compute time we actually see things differently. Picasso and Braque took this to its limit by deconstructing their subject into a series of images based on different viewpoints (Cubism).
I have my own thoughts on this which may illustrate why artistic landscapes can be so much more ‘real’ than photographs. It came to me when photographing the moon. You know how you can be inspired by the shear magnitude of a bright full moon near the horizon. You take a photo of it and it seems to disappear as a pin head. What is going on? The brain is tricking us into increasing the magnitude and importance of the central point of our visual frame.
The Les Baux experiment*. Let me illustrate by an experiment I did yesterday morning. We were visiting the wondrous outcrop at Les Baux de Provence, near Arles. I took a picture of the old fortress at the top of the crag. By moving the camera and adjusting the aperture, I took a second so that the view from my eye was a similar size to the one in the viewfinder; A kind of Camera Lucida to follow Hockney’s lead. The difference in the views represents the extent that the brain has distorted the perspective and tricked me.
The converse of this trick was known very early on in the history of art. By making the most important subject, such as Christ or the Virgin Mary, larger than the other figures attention is focussed on that person by the mind. It’s how art works!
*This idea may have been found by others – I just have not seen it anywhere. Do tell me if you know whose theory it is if anyones.
George’s Braque image Tate Modern