Unpacking a Facebook Comment: A Discussion on Art Tools and Insults

Unpacking a Facebook Comment: A Discussion on Art Tools and Insults

This morning I was mulling over a couple of ideas for a new blog post when I got distracted by and started responding to a Facebook comment on my previous post: ‘Can You Really 'Cheat' at Art?’.  The comment reads: 

A lucida is not cheating. You can tell the difference when someone with talent and training uses it compared someone who doesnt/isn't. What I find reprehensible is your constant and flagrant lies about who used these. The Lucida was not invented until 1806.

None of the "old masters " used this.

Ingres did not use this. He had skills.

Please stop insulting talented people.

As my mind started picking apart the comment, I realized I had found my next blog topic. Sometimes embracing a distraction is the most productive thing to do.

I have no argument with the first part of the comment, they are expressing their opinion on cheating in art—that is all fine and great. But then they abruptly transition to accusing me and/or my company of flagrant and reprehensible lies. Then self-contradictingly asserts that mentioning the tools an artist may have used is insulting them. This is what I would like to unpack and address.

In the same way my teenaged son constantly corrects his younger siblings on every trivial or perceived incorrect statement, this comment makes a fair point. The LUCY Drawing Tool is an improved camera lucida. The camera lucida was not invented until 1806. The term "Old Masters" generally refers to the most recognized European artists—working between the Renaissance and 1800. So by this logic none of the “Old Masters” could have used the camera lucida. That is technically true. And sometimes in advertising you can’t regress into the murky minutia of the past and tease out every nuance. But as my teenaged son will hopefully find out some day—the more you learn, the less you know.

The camera lucida was patented in 1806 by William Hyde Wollaston, but the optical principles involved were described nearly 200 years earlier in Johannes Kepler’s “Dioptrice”. When a thing is patented and when a thing is first used or known do not always coincide—especially when you are dealing with something as fundamental as reflecting light. No one knows if anyone built or used a reflective device like what became the camera lucida before Wollaston, but there is no reason they couldn’t have.

And of course, the knowledge of and use of the camera obscura goes even farther back and includes the entire “Old Master” Renaissance era when Leonardo da Vinci was sketching hundreds of diagrams of the camera obscura, including the one below. The camera obscura is a predecessor of the camera lucida. In both cases ‘camera’ means chamber or room. ‘Obscura’ means dark. ‘Lucida’ means light. The name camera lucida was chosen both to pay tribute to its forerunner and to juxtapose the way the two devices operate.

The point is there is not just one type of optical device that was used in art, but myriads of methods and tools made and used over the centuries. That is why we distinguish between device classes like camera lucidas and earlier predecessors like the camera obscuras when possible or [in order to avoid going in to confusing and unnecessary detail] use general terms such as ‘tools like this’ or ‘similar devices’. The LUCY drawing tool is not the camera lucida invented in 1806, nor is Wollaston’s lucida a camera obscura, nor is the obscura described by da Vinci the same as the one Vermeer would have used, but one cannot dismiss the evidence for the use of optics in art by conflating and quibbling about what tool was used when by who. The commenter may not like or agree with it, but our statement and belief that great artists of the past used tools like this is no less a lie than their insistence that they did not. A certain amount of evidence exists, and people make up their own mind about what may or may not have happened in the past. That's how historical science works.

Now quickly on the idea that talking about the history of optics in art is somehow “insulting talented people”. This commenter first acknowledges that they can tell the “difference when someone with talent and training uses” a camera lucida, inferring that even if an artist uses these sorts of tools, they still need talent and training to produce exceptional work. The commenter then turns around and infers that our stating that an artist with talent and training may have used an optical device to help create their exceptional work is “insulting talented people”. You can’t have it both ways. Of course, using any of these tools still requires talent and training, practice and patience.  This accusation of insulting talented people is groundless. Giving people tools to help them achieve their full potential is not cheating and acknowledging the tools that help achieve greatness is not insulting.

I’ve spoken my piece. I have no problem with different opinions or beliefs. Read and research, wonder and walk around; think whatever thing you want. But if you accuse me of lying—you may get a wordy response 😉.

Comments 51

Erin on

If the Lucida is “not cheating” then how are you insulting talented people? Furthermore, if the Lucida is “not cheating” then why does the next sentence imply that only the unskilled would need to use this tool? “Ingres did not use this. He had skills.”? What a nimrod.

Jaco V on

I agree fully and would suggest giving some of those critics one and demand a piece of art from them.

Deb on

I applaud you for your creative and clear response. Thank you for the additional information. I knew some of this, but am pleased to have learned more. I appreciate the time time you took to educate others in a respectful manner.

Laura on

Bravo and well said. I love when alternative conversations are had that “check” negative responses and allow food for thought.

Joy on

I teach my high schoolers how to sight size with a pencil and a plumb line. Those tools help them see the angles but then they must use eye to hand coordination to draw. A Lucy allows an antisocial to trace the contours of a three dimensional object but if the artist doesn’t enhance the drawing with color or shading it is lifeless.
I introduced the high schoolers to Lucy when they were discussing Chat GPT artificial intelligence. It seems that they can take a self and that app (modern tool) will alter their face to look like Picasso’s “Weeping Woman”. I stated that using a tool is fine but that the only thing the AI has been fed was Cubism, so they needed to work with the output as a rough sketch and continue to enhance it with their own human imagination.
PS if there was a class set price maybe we could influence the next generation of artists about Lucy’s value.

Avon on

Bravo! Tools are tools and I am betting AI will change how artists start projects too. It’s not how you start… art is how you finish.

Nathan Boudreaux on

As a fellow artist to communicate using a tool should not fall within lines of some ones opinion, but rather the purpose line(art) is understood.

Victoria Warford on

So tired of bitter snarkiness… Surely in the realm of the art world, where creativity and the pleasure it brings the artist are paramount, the means by which the product is achieved is beyond criticism. Personally, I have no expectation of being considered the next genius of whatever medium, the pleasure is in the creation. And if someone else enjoys the work? Bonus!

Robert Jones on

I think your cross correspondent may have got annoyed because David Hockney has propounded the view that old masters did use a form of camera lucida, and that that got some people very worked up. It is only a theory – one backed up by a good deal of thought on DH’s part, but still only a theory. I have not used any form of camera lucida, so haven’t used your product, obviously: but maybe if I weren’t so mean with money, I would: I certainly wouldn’t worry about taking a shortcut – ‘whatever helps’, is my motto. Just because a device was invented in 1806 and patented does not, of course, mean that it had never been used in more primitive iterations earlier: I don’t know if the old boys used a camera lucida or not, but I’d think no less of them if they did; I’m still pondering a purchase – after all, I CAN draw, and like finding my way into a drawing (and sometimes, of course, failing). If I had to perform a commission in a hurry, without the luxury of time – your device would come into its own and probably save me hours.

Constance on

Absolutely Truthfully and unapologetically stated.
Commendable to any differences of opinion restated.
Thank you for your example.

Christine Dytrych on

Well said. Wordy or not. Lucy is a helpful working tool. All tradespeople have tools, this is one tool of our trade. You may use it or not.

1LTLos on

Utilization of a Lucy or any drawing tool is not an insult. Rather, when you have been making art work for 53 years as I have, you will realize your dexterity, your shoulder joints, and your eyesight do not remain static as if one were still a youthful kid. Our bodies change, our stamina changes. The desire to create remains but using some form of assistance is far from insulting. In fact, many people employ the use of drawing and painting programs and even AI!!! If one is insulted that speaks to a level of immaturity that no amount of my words can possibly deal with. You think you can draw unaided – you think you are talented. But those are words. I began my professional art career in 1970. What have you accomplished? I recently purchased a Lucy because even in my 70’s, people commission me to paint their portraits. All I desire is to get their likeness correct. Their charm, their essence, their character – That is up to me to extract and to re-create on canvas. And that is what I do best. Ivo, you sound like a jealous narcissist. I know fantastic artists who can draw circles around you and your work. Who are you to even suggest such things? A little boy Art tyrant. Let people do as they wish. Real artists do not concern themselves with others process. Grow up.

Ray Vanneman on

Sometimes “art” is not art at all, its an expression of love intended to stimulate the imagination of others. I am no artist, but when I realized that my kids teacted to characters their size, i began making wooden 4 foot characters that seemed to inspire them! I would present them on their birthdays as a party decoration. Thirty years later they still have them. They were always a hit. They were recently collected and used as decoration for a parade float. Most were hauled off to show-and-tell. Almost always they wanted to read more about the character. My son even went on to major in art and has worked on many of the cg scenes in the Marvel movies.

Now my grandchildren are starting to arrive i got the Lucy to help me improve the drawing and speed the process up. My work may not meet the art standards, but for me it helps achieve a lasting bond and loving relationship between artist and recipient. For practical me, what more could I ask of art.

Shelley on

I understand the optics that make these types of drawing methods possible were initially developed for scientific purposes. Hockney places this at early as 1420. I believe it was a Dutch scientist, also an artist bridging the two fields, that found the same ground glass lens that made both telescope and microscope possible also gave us this tool for capturing the world as it was for the first time.

Astonishingly, later, the individual who first developed what we now know of as chemical photography in 1841, William Henry Fox Talbot, was driven to do so because he couldn’t make good enough images with the Lucida.

Paraphrasing Goethe’s prescience, “…Tools will not allow artists to create works of equal value …because a tool is not a creator.”

Blackbearybears on

Great article, thank you for sharing! I too have wondered about this being a “cheat” tool. Then I noticed mural artists using a projector which projected their image onto the wall which they traced and later painted. Googling some of these devices reveals many artists (including masters) used a variety of tools to “project” an image onto their canvas. Art is more than drawing out the thing you want to paint, composition and values are huge. I do wonder about the software “Procreate”, is that cheating? Or what about AI, is that art or is that cheating?

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