David Hockney gave an excellent artist’s talk at the Getty on September 10, 2015. I was so inspired that I talked it up to everyone I saw the next day. (A few hear the same pitch on the day after as well.) Skip to 7:14 if you don’t need a refresher on Hockney’s artistic credentials and influence.
“I’m going to begin this talk with a question, really. The question is: Why was it European painting had a vanishing point and shadows? Chinese, Japanese, Indian, Persian–all sophisticated image-makers–got along very well without them. Yes, without shadows.”
His talk Painting and Photography is all about space. In non-judgmental terms, he lays out some differences between systems of depicting space. These systems are important because our vocabulary influences our worldview. Delightfully enough, Hockney got into this idea as well. He shows how linear, Renaissance-inspired perspectival systems work with a base assumption that there is a single, authoritative point of view.
The entire system of linear perspective breaks apart if more than one point of view is included. Pointing this out is an important postmodern concept. What happens when we look at artists (especially non-European image makers) who don’t buy into that assumption? What if such artworks allow viewers to wander through artworks in ways more similar to lived situational awareness? When there is no clear focal point, then we are free to wander and explore. It’s a big deal, and empowers viewers to a greater extent.
Even if you don’t happen to nerd out about perspective systems, you might well delight in a slow pan over a Chinese scroll from 1751. The similarly designed animation is also gorgeous. I wish he’d attributed it more thoroughly (so I could link it directly).