Archive for the ‘Suffering artists’ Category

Those who fall in love with practice without science are like pilots who board a ship without rudders or compass. -Leonardo da Vinci

Q: Why do the Mona Lisa’s eyes appear to follow her viewers around the room?

A: Because Leonardo da Vinci was an expert at creating illusions…based on science and observation.

The development of perspective was hugely important in Renaissance art. Many artists of this time were obsessed with painting the world as it actually existed, rather than the way it appeared  to exist. The discovery of linear perspective allowed artists to create art that followed the laws of nature to create dimension, rather than merely using height and width to create the illusion of depth. Then they (the artists of the Renaissance) tossed in a few rockin’ shadows and created the most realistic two dimensional paintings made to date.

But back to Mona. I remember one time sitting on the couch eating dinner watching a television show. I saw something on the screen behind one of the actors and craned my neck to get a look behind him to see what it was. That was the moment that I truly understood the difference between two dimensions and three. No matter if I even stood up and walked across the room, I would never be able to see behind the fellow, unless he moved out of the way.  In a painting this limitation of two dimensions is even more prevalent because Mona Lisa will never acquiesce to a request to budge over so we can see whats going on behind her. She can never ever change what she’s doing. So if she is painted to be looking at the viewer, she will always be looking at the viewer, no matter where the viewer is standing. Once the perspective is set, it will remain forever.

Projective geometry, the mathematics underlying the rules of perspective, was born in the Renaissance and indeed may have ushered in the art of the High Renaissance. One-point perspective appeared first in the works of Masaccio and Masolino in the first half of the fifteenth century, coming to full fruition in the works of Leonardo da Vinci in the second half of the century. Although the scheme was firmly established with Leonardo, it saw further refinement in subsequent centuries with the introduction of two-point perspective a century later and three-point perspective much later–after cameras with tiltable lenses for architectural renditions were invented in the twentieth century. (Bülent Atalay, Math and the Mona Lisa)

(My other favorite artist, Albrecht Dürer)


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(Leonardo Da Vinci-self portrait circa 1512)

Leonarda da Vinci has long been my favorite artist. I thought about doing a blog posting on him several times over, but never could focus all the awesomeness into one idea succinct enough for a post. But, as will happen when the time is right, I scored a copy of a book entitled Math and the Mona Lisa: The Art and Science of Leonardo da Vinci by Bülent Atalay. From this score came the succinct thought that I needed. Leonardo da Vinci is known of as a renaissance man. Indeed, it was probably he as a subject, who first generated the term, because of his knowledge, curiosity and deep comprehension of so many varied, and seemingly polar opposite, subjects. Math and art. Science and religion. Circles and squares. These are all supposed opposites, and are also all ideas that Leonardo da Vinci was able to connect with his fabulous and inventive mind (a mind that is referred to as being seemingly superhuman, by some)

Since there are so many great ideas presented in Atalay’s book, I’ll just focus on a few and I’ll spread them out over a couple of postings. Too much goodness just goes to my head! I’ll start off with a quote:

For mathematicians and physicists it is undeniable that there exists inherent beauty in mathematics. This is the aesthetics of mathematics. Perspective, proportion, and symmetry in any context are quantifiable. Accordingly, art indeed possesses quantifiable aspects. There is the symmetry expressible in mathematical terms and then there are ‘nature’s numbers.’ These notations figure into the mathematics of aesthetics. The associated quantification  can be formulated at various levels of mathematical sophistication…The Fibonnaci series gives rise to the notion of dynamic symmetry, the golden section, or the ‘divine proportion,’ which Fibonacci himself could not have anticipated. Three hundred years after Fibonacci formulated the series Leonardo da Vinci illustrated a book called De divinia proportione. But the integration of science and art has many more strands than Fibonacci’s mathematics and Leonardo’s art: It also draws in elements of architecture, astronomy, biology, chemistry, geology, engineering, mathematics, philosophy, physics–encompassing the extraordinary range of Leonardo da Vinci’s interests. For him these were branches of the same tree, part of a grand unified structure, the universe. (Ataly, pg 14)

For those of you who skipped the quote, it basically said that beauty is often quantifiable through perspective, proportion, and symmetry and that for Leonardo da Vinci science, mathematics and art were all various parts of the same whole.

Up next…how is the Mona Lisa able to stare at you wherever you go? It’s beautiful…and it’s math.

(Leonardo Da Vinci-Flower of Life drawing)

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(Le Pigeon aux Petits Pois-Picasso, 1911)

Raise your hand if you like cubism, please! I used to not like it. The first time I saw some cubism, I was just bored. But then again, I was 15 and I felt bored with everything. You could have shown me a mathematical equation for a process that eliminated the need for petroleum products, cured cancer and directed the way to all the lost favorite socks in the world (with the only by-product of bars of warm dark chocolate), and I would have shrugged and gave you a friendlyish half-smile, all the while dying slowly inside of soul crushing boredom.

The next time I saw a cubist painting, it made me feel icky, like I was looking at a picture of the inside of an ant colony, eggs and all. Ew. At that time I was in college looking at slides in an art appreciation class. (Truthfully, at that time the only art that I really appreciated was my own.) It was so very busy and not really OF anything. Just, thingies and stuff, all over the place. Ew.

Then somebody told me that Picasso had admitted to somebody else that he had sold his soul to the devil. That seemed interesting to me, but not enough to really look at his artwork. I might have thought about looking at his artwork a time or two, but wasn’t really motivated enough to get up and do it. Probably because of the ant colony thing.

It wasn’t until recently that I actually started to understand what the heck the big idea was about cubism. I was reading a book called Surfing Through Hyperspace: Understanding Universes in Six Easy Lessons by Clifford Pickover when I began to understand. A quote from within said volume:

Einstein’s theory of general relativity describes space and time as a unified 4-D continuum called ‘spacetime.’ Consider yourself as having three spatial dimensions-height, width, and breadth. You also have the dimension of duration-how long you last. Modern physics views time as an extra dimension; thus, we live in a universe having (at least) three spatial dimensions and one additional dimension of time. Stop and consider some mystical implications of spacetime. Can something exist outside of spacetime? For example, Thomas Aquinas believed God to be outside of spacetime and thus capable of seeing all of the universe’s objects, past and future, in one blinding instant. An observer existing outside of time, in a region called ‘hypertime,’ can see the past and future all at once (pgs. 18-19).

This is a neat idea, but the inspiring cubism part didn’t come until 32 pages later…

When you look at a 2-D painting on a wall, you step back in the third dimension and can see the boundary of the painting (usually rectangularly shaped) as well as every point in the painting. This means that you can see the entire painting from one viewpoint. If you wish to see a 3-D artwork from one viewpoint, you need to step back in the fourth dimension. Assuming your eyes could grasp such a thing, you would theoretically see every point on the 3-D artwork, and in the 3-D artwork, without moving your viewpoint. This type of “omniscient” seeing and X-ray vision was known to Cubist painters such as Duchamp and Picasso. For this reason, Cubists sometimes showed multiple views of an object in the same painting. Present day sculptors such as Arthur Silverman, often place six copies of the same 3-D object, on separate bases, in six orientations. People viewing the six disjoint sculptures often do not realize that they are all the same object. Mathematics professor Nat Friedman (State University of New York at Albany) refers to this theoretical seeing in hyperspace as “hyperseeing” and points out in his writings that in hyperspace one can hypersee a 3-D object completely from one viewpoint.

Wow. Now that is far out. Maybe he sold his soul to the devil in order to do it, but Picasso figured out a way to paint so that the viewer can see multiple sides (points of view) all at the same time and from the same place. That is cool. Not icky or boring in the least! I wonder what Einstein would say about all this…wait! What’s that you say? Einstein came up with the theory of relativity in the same decade as Picasso started painting as if he lived on a beam of light?

(Portrait of Daniel-Henry Kahnweiler-Picasso 1910)

Guess I’ll have to make an Einstein/Picasso posting soon…

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(William Shakespeare)

Several years ago when I was in college writing a paper on something important involving things that had to do with my education, I distracted myself by reading an online dissertation on whether Shakespeare really wrote all those plays. This morning, for some weird reason, I woke up thinking about this topic, so I thought I’d write about it.

Shakespeare is/was a beloved writer. Or at least, we think he is/was. There happens to be a plethora of evidence that suggests a fraud. I will list some of this information (which I found  here and here and in the [awesome] book The Secret Teachings of All Ages by Manly P. Hall) for your perusal.

1. If you were famous, don’t you think that your family would talk about that a little bit to one another? My brother recently took a photograph of David Hasselhoff and I’ve told no fewer than several thousand people about it. And that’s David Hasselhoff. Shakespeare was the JK Rowling of the Renaissance. One would think that his family might have sent each other a letter or two about how great that was. No such letters or communication exist. Nothing. (As a matter of fact,  Shakespeare’s parents and at least some of his children were illiterate.)

2. There are only six known examples of Shakespeare’s handwriting in existence. All of these examples are signatures, and three of them are in his will.

The scrawling, uncertain method of their execution stamps Shakespeare as unfamiliar with the use of a pen, and it is obvious either that he copied a signature prepared for him or that his hand was guided while he wrote. (Manly P. Hall)


3. Stratford on Avon only had a grammar school (King Edward IV Grammar School) meaning Shakespeare had only the equivalent of an eighth grade education. Further, there is no evidence that he ever travelled outside England. There is also no evidence that William Shakespeare had a library. In his will, WS makes special notice of his “second best bed” and his “broad silver gilt bowl” but makes no mention of any books, manuscripts, or unpublished work, which, it would seem, should have been the most valuable of his possessions.

Where did William Shakespeare secure his knowledge of modern French, Italian, Spanish and Danish, to say nothing of classical Latin and Greek? The philosophic ideals promulgated throughout the Shakespearian plays demonstrate their author to have been thoroughly familiar with certain doctrines and tenets peculiar to Rosicrucianism; in fact the profundity of the Shakespearian productions stamps their creator as one of the illuminati of the ages. (Manly P. Hall)

4. Lastly I will mention the strange inscription on William Shakespeare’s tombstone. It reads:

Good frend for Jesus sake forebeare, To digg the dust enclosed heare. Blese be ye man that spares the stones, And curst be he that moves my bones.

Some folks say that other folks were trying to keep a third kind of folks’s prying shovels away from an empty coffin…

So, if William Shakespeare didn’t write all those plays, than who did? And why did the person use an alternate identity? Manly P. Hall has a suggestion. He says that Francis Bacon, the alchemist, wrote the plays. Bacon renounced all personal credit to his work when he entered the secret society of the Rosicrucians (Hall has a LOT of other evidence to back up his claim, but I haven’t got room for that today). Sam Sloan says that a woman named Elizabeth Vere wrote the plays and gave credit to WS because a woman couldn’t write a play and be taken seriously at the time.

Who knows what the truth is? Nobody. Certainly not me. But it is interesting. (I sense a Francis Bacon biography blog post in the works…)

(Francis Bacon)

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Once recently, a friend mentioned offhandedly that she was trying to stop talking about people behind their backs. I thought to myself, wow! that’s neat! I wonder how she’ll do? It didn’t really occur to me until about an hour later, when I noticed myself talking about somebody behind his back, that perhaps I should work on this too. Thus began my yo-yo attempt at being nice behind people’s backs.

I just finished a book called Ghostwalk (written by Rebecca Stott) which is about alchemy, Isaac Newton, and a few killins’ (I won’t say by whom, in case you want to read it). In the book there is a lot revealed about Isaac Newton, including a list of sins that he’d committed (written in code, of course). Here are a few interesting ones:

1. Using the word (God) openly. 2. Eating an apple at Thy house. 3. Making a feather (quill?) on Thy day. 4. Denying that I made it. 5. Making a mousetrap on Thy day. 6. Contriving of the chimes on Thy day. 10. Putting a pin in Iohn Keys  hat on Thy day to pick him. 13. Threatening my father and mother Smith to burne them and the house over them. 17. Stealing cherry cobs from Eduard Storer. 26. Calling Derothy Rose a jade. 43. Missing chapel. 44. Beating Arthur Storer.

There are lots of strange (and mildly amusing) things in this list (even more in the expanded version) which is perhaps why it was written in code (putting a pin in somebody’s hat to prick them? sheesh). Of course, I’d be mortified to find that in the year 2500 someone decoded and read my secret-list-of-sins journal.

But Isaac Newton was an alchemist. He knew that a person grows more and more spiritual with every bad habit he (or she) releases into the wild. He, like spirit seeking folks before and after him, felt the burn of guilt that follows doing something that you feel is wrong, something you have challenged yourself to overcome.

I talk a little shit about people from time to time (pardon my Old English). Sometimes I don’t for a while. It confuses me, because sometimes somebody does something that really bothers me or hurts my feelings, and talking about it, telling about how mean that person was or how thoughtless, makes me feel better. Until I begin to feel guilty about talking so mean about them, anyway.

Like Newton, I want to be better. I want to burn that part of me away, let it go.

Step 1: admit to millions of people that I talk smack about others. (ok, my readership is slightly lower than that, but we’re talkin’ potential here!)

Step 2: read a self-help book.

Step 3: begin again.

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(color wheel by Moses Harris–1766)

Did you know that if you stare at a yellow circle for a minute or two and then close your eyes, you will see a purple circle floating around on the back of your eyelids? And that if you stare at a blue circle and then close your eyes you’ll see an orange circle floating? As a matter of fact, if you stare at any color on the color wheel long enough and then close your eyes, you will experience the color directly opposite on the color wheel (it doesn’t work on the computer screen, possibly because of back lighting. You have to use paint or something non-opaque).

Goethe (the German philosopher, scientist and writer) said that when we see colors, something inside of us “reciprocally evokes” the colours diametrically opposed to [them] in this diagram.” (Goethe’s Theory of Colour) (ps. the “diagram” refers to the above color circle). When we see a color, its complementary color arises inside of us, and we unconsciously experience the whole of the chromatic scale at once.

In my last post I posed a question. If everything physical in the world can be continuously reduced and reduced until it is no more than nothing, does the physical world hold any meaning?

During a particularly depressing period in his life  (he had been helping a prostitute raise her children but it didn’t work out), Vincent van Gogh moved to a city called Nuenen to live with his parents. Nuenen was a city of weavers and van Gogh spent a lot of time during the year he lived there watching the weavers work. It was during this time that he decided that weaving was much like painting, and he began to develop his method of using paints as a weaver uses threads.

When the weavers weave that cloth…the peculiar Scottish plaids, then you know their aim is…for the multicolored checkered cloth to make the most vivid colors balance each other. But for the weaver, or rather the designer of the pattern or combination of colors, it is not always easy to determine his estimation of the number of threads and their direction, no more than it is easy to blend the strokes of the brush into a harmonious whole. (Vincent van Gogh quoted in Van Gogh and Gaugin: The Search for Sacred Art by Debora Silverman)

Van Gogh carried a little lacquered  Chinese tea box full of yarn with his painting supplies. While he was painting, van Gogh would take out different colors and twist them together to maximize the balance and luminosity that is experienced by the viewer. The colors, weaving together like so many threads, evoke the feeling of balanced contrast in the world.

On observation, all those swirling, seemingly disparate particles collapse like threads into a moment of balance, creating meaning in a formless world.

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A friend once said that only narcissists commit suicide. At the time I felt like that a fair enough assumption (we were talking at the time about a wealthy, good looking movie star who had made the attempt but failed), but after reading and doing a little writing on Vincent van Gogh, I think I’ve revised my view. Here was a man who failed at everything. He was wracked with religious guilt (his father and grandfather were ministers for the Dutch Reformed Church, based on the teaching of John Calvin). He was mentally ill, plagued by paranoia, insomnia, hallucinations, nightmares and despair. He was in pain much of the time due to loose teeth, stomach problems (both likely caused by malnutrition), epilepsy, and possibly syphilis.

I was discussing this with my partner and she said that life destroys some people. That they then take their lives is not narcissism, but blessed release. This reminds me of two things. First, it reminds me of that old saying that used to be on everybody’s bumper:

We are not human beings having a spiritual experience, we are spiritual beings having a human experience.

Coming down to the earth burns. And, I think, some people just aren’t capable of building up the same defenses as everybody else, and the world burns them up.

The second thing I’m reminded of is the Hindu story of Ganga, the maiden who sprang from the holy water Brahma used to wash the toes of Vishnu. Ganga was ordered to descend to the earth to wash over the ashes of a king’s ancestors, in order that they be able to be released from earth to ascend to heaven.

But Ganga was so powerful the gods were afraid that she would wash away the earth when she descended. Shiva agreed to take her into his wild mane of hair and to let her out little bits at a time. Ganga is the Ganges River, worshipped as sacred to the Hindu people.

I had a teacher once who showed us a drawing exercise in which you take a pencil and circle it above piece of paper, bringing it closer and closer to the paper, until you are actually drawing the circle. The moment the pencil touches the paper and the circle is drawn, a miracle has occurred. Something that was once an idea (non-physical)  now exists in the physical world. We bring it down and give it form.

You are a porthole. Ideas (inspirations) come into you, products (physical things) come out of you (in the form of artwork, or automobiles, or washed dishes–whatever it is that you do in the world).

We are the spiritual being Ganga descending to the earth. We are Shiva receiving and transforming divinity. We are the earth itself  holding the ash for purification and release. As Vincent van Gogh can attest, finding form in the ocean of chaos is not easy.

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