Life Lessons from David Hockney and His Views on Photography

Jul 10, 2020 / Photography / David Hockney / inspiration

A dark night metaphor for coronavirus and racism pandemic in the world today
Dark Night. Cyanotype on Paper, 2020. Two print sizes. © Jonah Calinawan

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David Hockney is one of the most famous English painters alive today. He turned 83 years old this week!

Leading up to his July 9th birthday, I saw a couple of instagram posts about his work (from accidentalmystery on June 26th and Baltimore Art on July 5th). While I was out walking, a fountain reminded me of his swimming pool painting. Even seeing the water in the Baltimore Inner Harbor reminded me of his work!

Water images that reminded me of David Hockney paintings and photography

When synchronicity and coincidences like these happen one after the other (I didn’t know his birthday was this week), I note them down in my journal, and then I make art from it. Hence, the image of the ocean with the subtle drawing of the waves. The ocean image is then collaged over the dark night image with the moon. David Hockney is a big influence and the reason why I use collage in my artwork.

While creating this cyanotype print, I was thinking about the life lessons we can learn from David Hockney.

Be Passionate About Something

If you were to see David Hockney when he was young, you’d think he was a party boy: he had blond hair, lived in Los Angeles, and had a handsome boyfriend. But really, he was constantly working. He would have a journal with him wherever he went. He drew even when he was relaxing by the swimming pool. I can’t remember now where I read that 10 years ago. It’s surprising to me that years later, this is the one detail I remember. It’s surprising because it seems so insignificant, and yet it’s not. To be great at something, you have to be passionate and obsessive. It has to take over your life. This is a hard act to follow. However, I think about how I can apply that in my life–not only in art but anything that I’m passionate about. It will help during old age as well, according to Hockney:

“When I’m painting I feel I’m thirty. When I stop, I’m not.”

Have A Point of View

Another life lesson from Hockney is to have a definite point of view–even if it annoys other people. For example, Hockney has always stated that photography is a deficient art not equivalent to painting. Could you imagine saying that when photography is a prominent art form of the 20th century? He said that in the 1980s, and he continues to talk about this even now. A recent 2017 interview from Huffpost:

“Photography is just one viewpoint, really, and there is never just one viewpoint—there are always thousands of viewpoints. Photographs are not real or that good. To think the highest we will get with reality is photography is naive.”

- David Hockney

What he said about photography used to infuriate me, but not anymore. I agree with him. The way we see is not from one viewpoint since we have two eyes. When we turn our heads one way or another, we see the object from many different vantage points. You can’t do this with a camera, which has only “one eye.” Thus, the camera is a “paralyzed cyclops” as Hockney used to say. A way to get around this is to combine single photographs to create a cubist image—what he called “joiners.”

Be Open to Change Your Mind

Another life lesson is to be big enough to change your mind or evolve your thinking. Recently, he seems to have warmed to photography. From the same interview:

DH: Photography came out of painting. The camera lucidas were used for painting before photography. It is now going back to painting because digits are leading us back.

LB: Why is that?

DH: Chemical photography is a very physical thing. Digital photography need not be physical for quite a while. You can manipulate and do all kinds of things on a screen before you print something. In chemical photography, it always had to be printed.

LB: So there is more room for the human hands, eyes and feelings?

DH: Oh yes, I’m realizing it now.

This is an interesting development. If you look at his new work called photographic drawings, he has warmed to manipulating images in Photoshop and playing with perspective. I had not thought of Photoshop in this way before (despite using it in my art process). Thinking of Photoshop as a way to bring in human hands, eyes, and feelings into the work is refreshing. In the past, I actually thought the reverse—that Photoshop was mechanical. Not anymore.

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