In his book ‘Secret Knowledge’ Hockney and Professor Martin Kemp, discuss known visual procedures of past Masters. This evidentiary material allows the reader to arrive at their conclusions.

Their is more than enough scholarly evidence that Vermeer, and many others, used a form of ‘Camera Obscura’ or curved mirror as a visual aide in their painting procedures. Yet there are still those that hang on the romantic idea that this is not the case.

We have researched this subject extensively, and one would have to be extremely hardheaded to think otherwise. (We initially were going to say Braindead but decided against it.)

We know Canaletto, Guardi, and many others used the “Camera Obscura”; the evidence is overwhelming. That is Canaletto’s actual camera to the left.

There is arrogant ignorance afoot here with no reasonable explanation. David Hockney is a respected Classically Trained Painter whose knowledge base comes from practical experience. Professor Martin Kemp’s credentials are impeccable beyond that common sense tells one that artists of all eras have used whatever tools they have had to their disposal. Add to that the brilliant work done by Professor Charles M. Falco and you have undeniable evidence that some Master Painters of the past and present use optical devices to develop their paintings.

Pretending that none of the Masters of the past 500 years took any advantage of any of the advancements in visual aids, optics, lenses, cameras, light projection, et al., is arrogant lunacy.

None the less Fred Ross and his minions at ARC the ART RENEWAL CENTER vehemently reject the use of optical aids by artists of the past, they also do not accept their use in the present, which shows their contempt for the use of optical devices altogether.

Virgil Elliott recently gave a talk at TRAC (The Realist Art Conference) titled the ‘Vermeer’s Eyes.’ Virgil is fanatical in this belief in spite of the overwhelming amount of tangible. Virgil is not alone there is an enormous tribe of fateful followers that buy into this nonsense.

There are no Photorealistic or Hyperrealistic works in ARCs 70,000 image collection, no Chuck Close, Audrey Flack, or Robin Eley.

It is pure denial to think that ‘Realism’ I.E., NATURALISM and photo optics have not been in lock-step throughout history. Not all of the great masters used them that is true, Michelangelo had little need for them, Leonardo, on the other hand, was fully aware of the existence of optical devices and invented some himself.

Ross and his acolytes have an extreme irrational bias against the use of any camera, optical device, or photo image in conjunction with drawing or painting.

This is the ‘Classical Realist’ Atelier sight-size Model that fills the pipeline with Bouguereau wannabes.

It also helps keep their Ateliers full, make no mistake about it, their business model relies on keeping students tied to the mast for as long as possible. They have no interest in teaching the most efficient way to do a menial task.

Hockney, Kemp, and Falco rocked ARC’s world, creating a potential schism in the realm of mindless mimesis and tonal trancing. This, of course, is a major threat to their livelihood. For the concept of sight-size to survive one has to buy into the idea that Master artists in the past worked from directly from life and only drew what they saw, neither of which is true.

We have used optical projection devices for several decades of part of our illustration and design businesses. It was one of our first purchases when we opened our doors. Without reservation, Ingres used one such a device to create the above drawings which all are about the same size (very small) and all handled in precisely the same manner.

Sir Joshua Reynolds owned a camera Lucida disguised as a book.

Reynolds, Joshua; Self-portrait of Sir Joshua Reynolds, PRA; https://www.royalacademy.org.uk/art-artists/work-of-art/O1232 Credit line: (c) (c) Royal Academy of Arts / Photographer credit: John Hammond /

In all likelihood, a great many of the Masters we admire from about 1430 forward included some form of optics in their process.

Here is a chronological evolution in less than one hundred and seventy-five years that shows skill-sets growing in leaps and bounds. This is photographic imagery long before photography was introduced in 1830.

This monumental leap in a relatively short period could not have occurred without the convergence of several factors.

First and foremost, the use of optical devices like the Camera Lucida became broadly available, other visual aids like Alberti’s Veil entered the picture making process as well.

Alberti also introduced the science of mathematical perspective, which changed the game in terms of creating the illusion of space.

The integration of solid geometry by Durer and other Renaissance Masters changed how painters viewed their environment and constructed their drawings. Observation played a role, but it was about observing the progress of their fellow artists that was paramount to progress.

Renaissance Masters used the tools they had available, drawing and painting from nature being but a minor part. They learned by observing how other Masters had solved similar problems. They created landscapes in the studio based on the mass conception of what they had observed in the works of their masters, and what they knew about the geometric construction of form. They knew how to construct figures without models and only used models for surface particulars or unfamiliar poses.

For one to propose that Master artist primarily worked from life is laughable outside of the ‘Classical Realist’ diatribe. Master artists have always worked with the best means and materials available to them which inevitably included the use of optical devices by many.

How to make a camera Lucida for idiots.

Did Leo use lenses, you decide, he certainly knew about them and we have dozens of his drawings exploring the science of optics.

We can all agree that Leo was a very smart person, and a smart person would use the best means available to achieve their objective.

It is not only farcical but disingenuous to suggest that the Old Masters would universally negate the use of any optical invention or other means at their disposal to aid in the production of their artworks. Why on earth would they want to do it better or faster?

If one’s mantra is to work from life then so be it, but do not think for a second that is how the Masters of the past did it. The classically trained artist (even Bouguereau) did not look at nature and copy it. The true classically trained artist observes nature interprets, reconfigures and reconstructs it. No classically trained master artist ever drew what they saw; they drew what they knew about their subject, editing out the insignificant, and accentuating the important.

This obviously goes against the grain of the ARC (Art Renewal Center) manifesto, which views ‘fine arts’ only function as a social, political, propagandist tool. It does not, however, explain their disdain for anything that relates to photography or why they sent their minions of mimesis to picket lectures by Hockney and Charles Falco.

What really sets Fred Ross off is that Hockney’s paintings sell for 20 times and much as a Bouguereau.


Herein lies the catch 22 not only is Fred Ross and the Art Renewal Center unwilling to admit that certain artists from the past used optical devices and cameras. (Bouguereau owned cameras and had an extensive collection of photographs as did many painters of his era, even though classically trained he knowingly competed with photographic naturalism.) They are also overlooking the fact that a huge number of Arc Salon entries and winners have used photography and digital aids in the process via projecting images, copying images, composing images, tracing images, et al.

Is it not difficult for the trained eye to spot the use of photography in the physical painting procedure. We also know many of the players where they trained, how they were taught and how they work. We could name names here, but how they do what they do is not what determines the merit of their work.

There are some outstanding painters that ARC has designated Living Masters, most had Mastered their craft long before The Art Renewal Center reared its ugly head.

Included in that group, however, is a surprising number of painters that rely heavily on the use of photography beyond reference.

Among the designated ‘LIVING MASTERS’ there is also a six to one ratio of men to women… it was much worse in the beginning. Not only do they think that the camera lucida did not add much to painting they obviously do not feel women contribute that much either.

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