Why doesn’t David Hockney see beauty in wind farms?

I find the beauty/ugliness argument against wind farms incredibly odd.

"YOSEMITE I, OCTOBER 16TH 2011"IPAD DRAWING© DAVID HOCKNEY

There’s a new documentary about David Hockney coming to the BBC, so he’s been doing media interviews.  This morning he was on the Radio 4 Today Programme and last week he was in the Observer Answering questions from fellow artists, he came out in support of… fracking!

Why? Well, for the pragmatic reason that we need the energy… and he can’t abide the alternative, which is wind turbines. In 2011, feeding reactionary quotes to the Daily Mail Hockney said that modern windmills are “big ugly things… I certainly wouldn’t paint them”.

I find the “beauty/ugliness” argument against wind farms incredibly odd. If we eschew renewable energy and burn more fossil fuels, as Hockney advocates, we will add to the problem of greenhouse gases in our atmosphere and accelerate global warming. This, in turn, will lead to the ruination of precisely the landscapes that Hockney and his fellow artists throughout history have enjoyed painting.

I suppose that wind farm critics might instead be in favour of nuclear energy, but if a person thinks that wind turbines are ugly then I assume they will also hate the sight of the massive nuclear power stations with their aggressive, monolithic architecture.1

But it vexes me that David Hockney in particular is against wind farms. This is an artist whose most famous works are of swimming pools – icons of modernity, faux ponds, interventions in the landscape. He is also an artist who champions the use of technology when it comes to art. He wrote a fascinating book Secret Knowledge in which he theorised that many of the Old Masters used lens technologies—camera obscura, camera lucida—to paint photo-realistic portraits. More recently he created some acclaimed paintings using an iPad app.  So one would expect that the idea of wind farms, which represent technological progress and a defence of the environment, would be completely Hockney’s bag.

Moreover, in the Observer article, Hockney himself gives a quote from John Ruskin which shows how interventions in the landscape become beautiful as our expectations of the landscape change.

Ruskin said: “Why build bridges between Manchester and Liverpool just to get the businessman there quicker?” A hundred years later they want to keep the bridges and things. It’s always like that, isn’t it really?

Quite.  But in quoting Ruskin thus, Hockney appears to be acknowledging and embracing his own reactionary views.  Which seems an incredibly odd thing for an artist to do!  Infuriating.


1. Personally, I’m in favour of nuclear energy and wind farms. Nuclear power will supply our vast energy needs in the medium term while renewable energy matures. Nuclear power at least has the virtue of not polluting the entire atmosphere. I know dealing with nuclear waste is an expensive  inconvenience, but it’s orders of magnitude less problematic than anthropogenic climate change.

1 thought on “Why doesn’t David Hockney see beauty in wind farms?”

  1. Yes well, David Hockney is not the only fashionable artist who turns out to be a bit of a right-winger – Tracey Emin’s avowed Conservatism raised a few eyebrows, but maybe it’s just a position statement.

    Both she and Hockney share a belief in drawing as the foundation stone of visual art, and this sets them at odds with the wilder reaches of contemporary art. Hockney’s interest in photography is deceptive – he uses it to point up its limitations. ‘Optics don’t make marks’ is one of his slogans. As a photographer I’m fairly comfortable with this, because of the huge effort Hockney has expended investigating painters’ use of optical aids, and the light this has thrown on art practice down the centuries. And he’s done things with photography that photographers might have done first – only they never thought of them.

    But I wouldn’t go to Hockney for deep insights on contemporary art, still less for environmental wisdom. He’s a National Treasure, and like Mr Turner, we have to love him for what he’s done – not for what we might wish he’d done additionally.

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