Experiences working with Artists

Having put so much time into making the image and setting up this space, I thought it was time to add some more content. Maybe the weekend will be the weekly time to publish, but probably I will be inconsistent.

This is a piece I wrote in reaction to working with artists at an art science show at Imperial College London in April 2008. My piece in the show is below:

Surfaces in three and four dimensions

Surfaces in three and four dimensions

Reading the words of Raymond Brownell to describe his mathematical art work, I was struck by an interesting observation. The things that draw me to maths or science art are quite the reverse of many in the field. Instead of seeking the impersonal the perfect the rigourous, I seek to find the personsal, the lucky stroke, the error. When Raymond writes that his style is all about using techniques to make the personal, such as brush strokes, disappear my only reaction is to think of how I want to compose work solely of brushstrokes, the mathematical forms blurred but apparent. Even on a computer I seek ways in which the generating algorithm can introduce subtle changes to what, in the mathematically perfect world should be the same thing.

A related topic occurs in discussions surrounding this show. People have been talking about the nature of the process as apposed to finished work. Science and maths are by their nature an unfinishable process. In general understanding something opens the ways to more questions rather than closing off old ones. Personally I love the feeling of being able to finish a piece of work. It is so much more final for me than the submission or publication of a paper. I understand that art too is a process and in looking at a body of work by a particular artist one can see how ideas developed and were explored. However in my personal work I do get a feeling of finishing when I have produced a work from a particular idea that allows me to move on to the next.

Maybe this is natural as I am coming from maths into art and most are going the opposite way. Therein lies a problem for me, in some ways the work I crave to make is virtuoso, coming from skill, and that skill nearly always takes years to produce. I cringe when I read reviews of Tomma Abts, whose work I adore, and who seems to be a far more skilled painter than I could hope to be in any reasonable time, criticised for her bad or even autistic brushwork. The problem is not only that I am not able to make such strokes, but I am not even sure what they would be.

Maybe I could regret not going to art school, or alternatively take time to enroll in one now. I find two reasons for not doing this. Firstly it would be a disservice to the superb technical and intellectual eductaion that I received instead. I speak in glowing terms about a mathematical education not my own reaction to it. I firmly believe that it is one of the best training for clear thinking available. This education in fact allows me to overcome some of my artistic issues, an inability to draw, by using the power of a computer and then a laser cutter to etch the designs onto canvas, even wet paint. This in fact leads to the second reason. I do not need much of the knowledge an art training provides. That is of course not to say that I do not envy and desire skills such as drawing, merely that I can compensate for my own lack. Time spent learning them would therefore be time not spent learning something else.

I must therefore accept that time, practice combined with informal discussions must do the training for me and I can simply dream of the time when, as I think is the case for Tomma Abts, reviewers of my work have to mention the shoddy brushwork in order to bring balance to an otherwise glowing review.

Apologies for the wordy and slightly rambling style of this short essay. I was inspired to write by listening to a podcast of Stephen Fry and think that I got slightly infected by my poor imitation of his style.