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 😉.

51 commentaires 51

Lori sur

You are so right. Doctors use microscopic goggles to assist in surgery. Bricklayers use a cord to achieve a straight line. Still takes talent and skill, not cheating, just perfecting the process

Magpie sur

yeah, in my opinion, this kind of opinion literally just comes from the inherently internalize ableism of living in a hierarchical society, but hey whatever.

Mychall sur

Perhaps the comment’s author feels their use of only self burnt wood and papyrus coupled with egg yolk paint makes them superior and therefore more talented. The rest of us “untalented” and “unskilled” artists will use technological improvements to further prove the author’s superior status. Of course we also will enjoy our non-cavelike homes and indoor plumbing. (Humph…untalented indeed!)

James Day sur

Thank you for your response and detailed rebuttal on this comment. The evidence is abundant and clear that some artists of old did use optical accessories to help and enhance their own art and achieve a level of accuracy that previously had been unobtainable. There are plenty of books written on this that cover the subject and the evidence is overwhelming that great artists, just like great sport athletes , great car drivers and great leaders will use any tool available to them that will help them improve their service and performance. It is not cheating. It is a skillful and masterful use of the tools that help us achieve our goals as an artist or a performer. So let me ask this.. a world-class singer s ings in front of an audience. Is using a mic to enhance the volume of their voice cheating?

Hooper Garyesue sur

Well done.

Pam sur

It’s not “cheating.” It’s a tool like any other — T-square, triangle, compass, ruler, variously shaped brushes, various substrates — on and on. What matters is what you DO with all the tools.

Mary sur

I have used the Lucida when faced with a difficult perspective on the subject. I usually try sketching these out by hand at first (as with any painting I am going to do). I have found that recently what my eyes see, is not how my hand carries out the message from my brain. Kind of like dyslexia (which I have a minor issue with numbers)…my eyes see a curve, but my hand draws the curve in the opposite direction.

The Lucida helps my hand achieve my goal…kind of like a retraining. Making similar difficult perspectives easier to draw by hand.

So for me, the Lucinda has helped reduce frustration at the basic level of painting and has allowed me to continue to challenge myself with more difficult subjects.

Nan Murphy sur

Your response to the critic is so very well presented! Thank you for the history lesson which was not only informative but interesting. I do understand the critics point of view, but honestly, get over yourself! Artists use tools. The Lucy is another type of tool. Use it, don’t use it. But for those of us who would like to try it and see a more professional look to our art, the Lucy can help that become a possibility. I always explain my use of the tool. Thanks again for the history lesson and wonderful grammar!

Sophia Lazard sur

I think the Lucy tool is great. I have enjoyed drawing and painting every since I can remember and I consider myself to be a pretty good at it. I don’t consider using it cheating it gives me a more precise outline quicker.

susan sur

Bravo! Great response and explanation. Non-abstract artists use a number of methods of ‘transferring’ or creating the subject of their painting onto their canvas. I have seen many a talented and true artist use grids and projectors to get the outline sketch of their subject on the canvas. When realism is the focus, it is the painting of light, color, shadow and emotion that makes the art, more so than the subject outline. I am glad you addressed this.

James Spicer sur

Well said ! I think someone is just jealous of your exceptional business. In whatever one does, if someone invented a device to improve your trade , more power to ya! The old Hunters may have used knifes snd Bows but it was probably a Hunter who invented the Gun and not a Artist. JS

Barbara sur

Thank you for taking this person on. Some great or even “not so great” artist didn’t sketch well but found their talent in their paint (medium used) and the opposite is also true. Who is to say one is more talented than the other
Believe me, if I could afford a tool to help me sketch or draw, I would definitely have one. I am a newbie at art, but have always loved to sketch or doodle since I was a young girl. I am now 70 yrs. And still working at it!❤️❤️❤️

martha oquendo sur

Can i draw from a computer with this camara?

Cindy J Schuldt sur

Don’t let the trolls rent space in your head!
I hear this kind of comment now and then at our pottery studio. Shrug it off and move on with a great product.

Daniel Feth sur

I think the commentator feels threatened by a “less talented” artist making good art using the tools available to them. Does he think that using a ruler is also cheating to make a straight line? Intelligent people use whatever means are available to create whatever it is they are creating. Work smarter not harder. I’m sure this method will not diminish the beauty of a masterpiece. The artist still has to make the marks.

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