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A History of Pictures

From the Cave to the Computer Screen

David Hockney, Martin Gayford


David Hockney and Martin Gayford discuss the 30,000-year-old history of pictures in one brilliantly original volume

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A picture, says David Hockney, is the only way that we can give an account of what we see. But all picture-makers face a common problem: how to compress three-dimensional people, things and places onto a flat surface? The results are often pigeonholed as paintings, photographs or films. Alternatively, they may be sorted by date and style: medieval, Renaissance or baroque. In fact, Hockney argues, whether they are made by brush, camera or digital program, and no matter if they are on cave walls or computer screens, first and foremost they are all pictures. And for us to understand how we see the world around us - and hence ourselves - what is needed is a history of pictures. This is that book.

Informed and energized by a lifetime of painting, drawing and making images with cameras, Hockney, in collaboration with the art critic Martin Gayford, explores how and why pictures have been made across the millennia. What makes marks on a flat surface interesting? How do you show movement in a still picture, and how, conversely, do films and television connect with old masters? What are the ways in which time and space can be condensed into a static image on a canvas or screen? What do pictures show - truth or lies? Do photographs present the world as we experience it?

Juxtaposing a rich variety of images - a still from a Disney cartoon with a Japanese woodblock print by Hiroshige, a scene from an Eisenstein film with a Velázquez painting - the authors cross the normal boundaries between high culture and popular entertainment, and make unexpected connections across time and media. Building on Hockney's groundbreaking book Secret Knowledge, they argue that film, photography, painting and drawing are deeply interconnected. Insightful and thought-provoking, A History of Pictures is an important contribution to our appreciation of how we represent our reality.


'I won’t read a more interesting book all year ... utterly fascinating'
A. N. Wilson, Sunday Times

'A magic flight of a book … It’s a measure of Hockney’s vividness of perception that he can always put a cap on Gayford’s knowledge … Fabulous!'
Clive James, Guardian

'Hockney asks big questions about the nature of picture-making and the relationship between painters and photography in a way that no other contemporary artist seems to do … Enormously good-humoured and entertaining … On almost every page, there is an interesting provocation'
Andrew Marr, New Statesman

'An eloquent conversational testimony to the vividness of life lived through intelligent looking. You will see Caravaggio and Citizen Kane with fresh eyes'
Daily Telegraph

'Crisps up perceptions and help readers to look anew'
The Times

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Product Information

Book Details

Format: Hardback

Size: 27.8 x 21.5 cm

Extent: 360 pp

Publication date: 6 October 2016

ISBN: 9780500239490

Contents List

1. Pictures, Art and History • 2. Pictures and Reality • 3. Making Marks • 4. Shadows • 5. Picturing Space and Time • 6. Brunelleschi’s Window and Alberti’s Mirror • 7. Mirrors and Reflections • 8. Paper, Paint and Multiplying Pictures • 9. Painting the Stage and Staging Paintings • 10. Caravaggio and the Academy of the Lynx-Eyed • 11. Vermeer and Rembrandt: the Hand, the Lens and the Heart • 12. Truth and Beauty in the Age of Reason • 13. The Camera Before and After 1839 • 14. Photography, Truth and Painting • 15. Painting with and without Photography • 16. Snapshots and Moving Pictures • 17. Movies and Stills • 18. The Unending History of Pictures

About the Author

David Hockney is considered one of the most influential British artists of the 20th century. He has produced work in almost every medium - painting, drawing, stage design, photography and printmaking - and has stretched the boundaries of all of them. Born in Bradford, England, in 1937, Hockney attended art school in London before moving to Los Angeles in the 1960s. There, he painted his famous swimming pool paintings. In a 2011 poll of more than 1,000 British artists, Hockney was voted the most influential British artist of all time. He continues to create and exhibit art.

Martin Gayford is art critic for The Spectator and the author of acclaimed books on Van Gogh, Constable and Michelangelo. He is the author of many books, including Man with a Blue Scarf, Rendez-vous with Art, (with Philippe de Montebello), A Bigger Message, Modernists & Mavericks, A History of Pictures (with David Hockney), The Pursuit of Art and Spring Cannot be Cancelled, all published by Thames & Hudson.