Saturday, May 15, 2004

Art as a Mathematical Enterprise

Have you ever thought of art as a mathematical enterprise? Not in the sense of paint by numbers or proportions, or anything like that. But, what an artist does is no different from what a mathematician does. The mathematician uses symbols (numbers) to represent ideas. The English teacher uses the syntax of a sentence to accomplish the same task (words as symbols to represent ideas). The artist uses shape and color just like the mathematician uses variables in an equation.

When an image doesn't make sense, text can sometimes elucidate what is occurring in the image. But, when one steps back from it all, what is really happening is that the student is jumping into and out of 2 different worlds/personalities/skins. Another example, when I want to understand something about the English language that doesn't make sense to me, once I am taking a Spanish class, I suddenly have the option of jumping into the skin of a Spanish-speaking person and doing that gives me new eyes--a new perspective--that often yields new understandings.

Ahhhh, here is the crux of the matter: Art allows us to extricate ourselves completely from the words (and worlds) in which we are enmeshed. When we do that, we become pseudo-objective observers instead of subjective participants--seeing things from a different angle, and, thus, understanding them differently. I believe that the same is true in any situation where we have the opportunity to experience one thing in terms of another--such as with metaphors and analogies, or even ourselves in terms of someone else--i.e. in a friendship.

The thing that I like about this whole thought, though, is that I had never thought about a preference for visual explanations/support as having anything to do with recontextualization. Graphics = a new context. That is an interesting thought to me.

THAT, of course, wanders back into what artists do. Wouldn't it be cool to take a piece of art and analyze it using mathematics? In other words, to see if just as you could take a mathematical function, choose shapes and colors to replace the numerical variables, and then see what you end up with (which is essentially what they seem to have done in the Mandelbrot sets), you could also take a piece of art and replace the relationship between shapes and colors with numerical equations that describe the relationships betwen them and see what you got?!

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