On occasion I have written here about the evils of photography, while other readers of this magazine may remember my having voiced more general apprehensions with respect to the transformation undergone by the human mind in an age when, by pressing a button, a suburban housewife may proclaim herself Baudelaire or Monet.  Recently, I found an unlikely ally in my anxiety.

David Hockney is a homosexual, but a painter.  The inversion is justified, as I believe it is in his own case, by the venerable tradition among artists of exploring the precincts of Hell, a tradition ascending not only to Michelangelo but to the far more gifted, yet no less troubled, Francis Bacon.  At any rate, such is my own considered opinion.

In art, exceptions are the rule.  Milton, who indelibly infected English prosody with the HIV of blank verse, is the author of one of the most beautiful poems in the language, whose appearance created nearly as many opportunities for future English poets as it has destroyed.  Compare this with the achievement of a technocrat like Gutenberg, who, aspiring to affirm Christianity and its culture, invented an infernal machine that undermined the apostolic continuity of the Church and eventually turned European culture to newsprint, tax manuals, and Harlequin romances.

The painter Hockney is the Milton of technological progress, rather than one of its numberless Gutenbergs.  In January, La Fondation Pierre Bergé-Yves Saint Laurent in Paris mounted an exhibition of his iPhone and iPad drawings under the title of Fleurs Fraîches.  A visitor noted that “the rooms were darkened, and the effect was like being inside Notre-Dame or Chartres, surrounded by glorious stained glass.”

Next year the Royal Academy of Art in London will show Hockney’s “nine-camera” works, in the preparation of which trees in his native Yorkshire are filmed twice a day for many months running.  “One of the things a Hollywood cameraman will always tell you,” explained the artist, “as if confiding a dark secret” to Bryan Appleyard of the Sunday Times, “is that it is difficult to photograph the tallness of trees, but we’ve done it here.”

I have been to the Biennale in Venice, to Frieze in Regents Park, and to many another witches’ sabbath of contemporary art, and I believe I have long developed an ear for the utterance of the pseud and the faker.  This isn’t one such utterance.  Hockney is a man obsessed with nature and with God’s light, and consequently with the use of the latest in electronic innovation to render his twin obsession as occult and laconic as any painting of a god on the wall of a cave.

A few years ago my attention was drawn to Hockney’s attempts to prove that a vast majority of artists from the Renaissance onward used optical devices, precursors of the photographer’s lens like the camera obscure, to achieve verisimilitude in their portraits and landscapes.  Largely unfamiliar at the time with Hockney’s work, his views and obsessions, I drew conclusions diametrically opposite to his from these controversial claims.  If true, they merely confirmed Pavel Florensky’s thesis, put forward in his Iconostasis, that the introduction of the whole apparatus of verisimilitude, such as the use of geometric perspective, into art in the Renaissance was the beginning of the end of spirituality in European painting.

I had forgotten that art lives by exceptions, and now I realize that Hockney is one of them.  “His message,” as Appleyard, a supple interviewer, summarizes it, “is that technology and the image—the machine and the hand—are natural companions.”  Undoubtedly they are—for Hockney, rather as blank verse was the natural companion of poetic vision for Milton.  But where does that leave the billion-strong army of living or dead “poets” and “artists,” pseuds and fakers, students and housewives, who have seized on the recipes of past revolutions in individual consciousness to express themselves in word, paint, and musical note?

Reading Appleyard’s interview was the closest I ever came to buying an iPhone or an iPad, a point, incidentally, that isn’t lost on the artist.  Here is what Hockney said in reply to it: “Apple have been in touch.  I kind of didn’t want to talk to them.  I’d prefer to do all this myself.  I don’t really owe them anything.  I’ve probably sold lots of iPads, but my instinct is to keep away because I want the freedom to do what I want.”

Not surprisingly for an idealist at 73, Hockney mistrusts politics, hates Blair and Brown, likes Prince Charles, has given up California for the seclusion of Yorkshire backwoods, and brings every conversation round to the ban on smoking in public places.

A man who lights up a Camel a minute, all the while producing the most remarkable canvases—even if they are light boxes—since the death of Bacon, is man enough for me.