David Hockney assumes (although it’s never proven because the actual tools are lost) in his book “Secret Knowledge: Rediscovering the Lost Techniques of the Old Masters” that in the 15th century there was suddenly a need for more realistic representation (a little bit of the chicken and the egg kind of thing if you ask me). Painters (and other visual artists) were commissioned to make portraits of people, landscapes, and scenes from daily life to show an as accurate impression as possible of the reality they lived in.

David Hockney also pointed out that around the 14th century all art suddenly became ‘realistic’. In his expose he blames it on the arrival of devices that helped the artist to create better representations of the world that surrounds us.

Hockney’s unraveling of Renaissance craftsmanship indicates how much disagreement there is in our modernist vision of mediation or technical intervention of art. The modernist concentrates on the objectivity of mastery and the autonomy of his subjects, but all things considered, he neglects to see how this objectivism and subjectivism are themselves residues of technological intervention.

Fragment from Albrecht Dürer’s ‘Unterweysung der Messung’ from 1525, showing new tools and techniques for a better measurement of reality.

Peter-Paul Verbeek shows in his dissertation that Renaissance art is specifically known for its ‘realism’. The adequate and precise representation of reality. At the same time, these representations are supposed to have been made by autonomous people, who master the capacity and all “that it takes” to produce such astonishingly realistic works of art.

Don Ihde‘s revealing examination of the part of the camera obscura in Renaissance masterpieces delineates this position beautifully. At the point when David Hockney additionally tells us that numerous Renaissance canvases were really created with the assistance of the camera obscura, he fortifies not just the significance of realism in Renaissance art (as provided by the camera), but also additionally of the autonomy of the subject.
The idea that utilizing the camera obscura is viewed as a type of ‘deceiving’, exposes what was viewed as an autonomous articulation of individual virtuoso to a mere ‘drawing by the lines.’
This defines the modernist occupation with the authenticity of the subject: it should be ‘genuine’ or ‘pure,’ which implies that it ought not to be expanded or ‘contaminated’ by mechanical tools.

The evolution of realistic representation in art from nefertiti to ingres, Midjourney

As Ihde contends in accordance with Panofsky, the Renaissance – the beginning of innovation – was “exemplified trough advances, with the camera obscura being one most loved optical toy”. Simply after the presentation of the camera, it ended up noticeably conceivable to create ‘sensible’ portrayals of reality on a screen and to comprehend individuals regarding self-sufficient subjects, having a different presence from the universe of articles.

The camera obscura made accessible pictures of reality in straight point of view arranging, and this altogether intervened portrayal of reality got the opportunity to be viewed as coming nearest to “the genuine article”. Along these lines, as opposed to reviewing Renaissance craftsmanship as far as ‘authenticity,’ as a hotly anticipated strategy to deliver sufficient portrayals of reality, it ought to be viewed as a type of practicing the new visual administration forced by the camera obscura, an approach to investigate another mechanically intervened sign of reality.

The camera obscura made available images of reality in linear perspective formatting, and this thoroughly mediated representation of reality got to be seen as coming closest to “the real thing.” Therefore, rather than viewing Renaissance art in terms of ‘realism,’ as a long-awaited technique to produce adequate representations of reality, it should be seen as a form of exercising the new visual regime imposed by the camera obscura, a way to explore a new technologically mediated manifestation of reality.

Before photography, painters had a monopoly on the representation of ‘realistic’ images. First, there was the camera obscura, concave mirrors, the invention of the lens, the camera lucida, several processes of fixating the image or permanent photograph, easy reproduction of these photographs on large scale, and finally digitalization.

More recently we see a return to iconic, more symbolic representations in art, design, and in the use of our daily language. We use emoticons, avatars, and icons to communicate with the world. For a large part, this is caused by the huge arrival of new devices. The direct influence of technology.

Erwin Rosenthal on the other hand speaks of a changing concept of reality in art when he points out to us that the artists themselves, separated by centuries and countries concur in deciding whether to fully embrace the outer world or to overcome naturalism and depend upon ideas.


Erwin Rosenthal: The Changing Concept of Reality In Art

David Hockney: Secret Knowledge: Rediscovering the Lost Techniques of the Old Masters

Peter-Paul Verbeek: Beyond the Human Eye Technological Mediation and Posthuman Visions

Related articles

To automate or not to automate

The Heckel diagram

The Automated Designer is a research topic studied for the author’s MBA thesis paper at The Berlin School of Creative Leadership.