A Capacity for the Sublime: Math and Art as Experience by Elizabeth McTernan and F. Luke Wolcott (Not published? 2013)


This paper, written in collaboration by an artist and mathematician, presents a rough classification of works of Math-Art.

First we discuss Level 0 work, which is mainly focused on identifying mathematical aspects of art pieces, or artistic aspects of mathematical entities. Math and art relate via content illustration. In Level 1 work, math informs the generative process and aesthetics apply selective pressure; the result is usually pieces that are mathematically interesting and visually appealing. Math and art relate through edited representation. In Level 2 work, math and art relate through structure. The math evoked is more abstract and the art manifests more conceptually; these pieces are less representational and enfold material, organization, and context in their intentioned outcome. Finally, Level 3 sees math and art as two manifestations of a certain way of processing, and perhaps understanding, existence. The pieces are often time-based, experiential, ontological, and transcend but include both math and art; they may not be recognizable as either.
The authors discuss a number of works of art, beginning with their own 2007 piece The Possibility of Walking Through a Wall, a video work in which the mathematician attempts the impossible task of calculating the probability of walking through the wall (a theoretical possibility) while the artist repeatedly tries to do so. It’s very funny.
Taken together, the scratchwork and video point to a convergence of the mathematician’s experience and the artist’s experience as the same effort in the face of frustration and hopelessnes.
At level 2, they present another of their own artworks, a 90-minute workshop entitled Imagining Negative-Dimensional Space. There’s another paper written about that which I’ll talk about separately. They also talk about institutional similarities between art and mathematics (interesting) and glass bead games. At level 3, they revisit and discuss some of their own work, as well as Gordon Matta-Clark’s Conical Intersect, discussing how each contributes to both disciplines.

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