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Cheating in Art, Engelbart’s Vision

Da Vinci: Lady with Ermine

Jon Udell writes about David Hockney’s book “Secret Knowledge.” The crux of the dispute is: did the master painters of the renaissance use mirrors, lenses and camera obscuras to trace the forms that they use in their paintings. And if they did, does that constitute “cheating.” And if it is cheating, does that in some way reduce the value of the work? Udell approaches the discussion from a technical point of view, looking at research by computer scientists to determine if the line work has the regularity of something traced, or if there’s sufficient irregularity to deem the work “human.”

This brings to mind two thoughts: one is of Douglas Englebart and his life long quest to augment human intelligence and capability. Although some might still think so, could one say that using a graphical user interface and a mouse is cheating? Is using design patterns in programming cheating? Artists develop technology to help them reach and implement their visions. This has occured throughout history and shouldn’t surprise anyone. Despite what some may think, art is a business to artists, and they strive for efficiency just like any other business. Read Philip Ball’s book Bright Earth: Art and the Invention of Color. Even the basic pigments of a painting are the result of technical innovation— and the use of color in painting was often all business. A commissioned painting might specify a certain amount of gold or blue (created from crushed lapis) to indicate the wealth and status of the commissioner.

Art isn’t about the tools used to make it. It’s about what happens between the viewer and the work. To say that evidence of “tracing” or use of certain kinds of tools in the production of an old master painting devalues the painting is to say nothing of the painting’s value as art. And to say that it devalues the genius of the artist, is to show that one knows little of “genius” or “artists.” We love the myth of the artist and the genius— it’s our connection to the divine. Heaven forbid we peek behind the curtain.

Published in art artists culture value


  1. Thx. fixed. /cgerrish

  2. Peek, not peak Peek, not peak

    Probably not nice to say it, but it’s “peek” not “peak”.

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