Saturday, April 28, 2007

Art and artists

Once again I will be quoting Prof S and it seems I'm building a collection of his quotes! (although I do fear misquoting him, but this is the best of how I remembered it).

So on Friday, Prof S said something along the lines that the multiple choice test that we had on Wednesday was created by two artists i.e. the two lecturers who had taught us linear algebra. (As Milo, Jake and me had been discussing/moaning about it, since as you can imagine you have 50 minutes to work out the characteristic equation of a matrix, and then you have to work out another characteristic equation and find eigenvalues and eigenvectors as well. That's not a problem but the clock ticking is.)

At that time I didn't think too much of the word artist, I mean I was too busy talking about multiple choice tests! However, today as I did nothing (which will probably be the reason that I'm going to be freaking out tomorrow!), I came across a quote by Pablo Picasso which has inspired this post so to speak.

Now I'm not an artist, so please excuse any incorrect 'technical' terms that I may use, obviously correcting me if need be. However, to put it simply an artist draws pictures. I'm deliberately using 'baby' vocabulary for this because I want to build what an artist does from scratch. So an artist draws has been established. Imagine you're an artist and can draw, or you're just a normal person eg me (but not normal!) who likes 'drawing' but isn't very good at it. Now the question arises about what exactly an artist draws. What do you draw? What makes me want to draw?

For an artist the motivation to draw could be quite unrelated to what an artist draws. Waking up in the morning and seeing the sunrise may be some form of motivation, or maybe seeing an ant crawl. Some people don't have to be motivated to draw- they might be mechanical about the whole thing. In the end of the day, both the motivated and unmotivated artist will have drawn something. For the motivated one feelings will be expressed as a result. A deep passion will be stirring within as she works away, and feeling of accomplishment and satisfaction will be ripe. For the unmotivated one drawing will be like a 9-5pm job. You wake up in the morning, head of to work and do your thing. At the end of the day you come home and the cycle continues, and you're content with this since you're doing your job and living happily. So we've now deduced that artists draw, and there drawings could either be a result of some sort of motivation or nothing.

The natural question then is how does the artist draw his/her picture. How does he express his motivation and feelings if they are indeed motivated? Does she just use pencil colours, or maybe crayons and felt tip pens? Maybe paint is going to used- watercolours or acrylic ones. Or maybe this artist only requires a pencil and paper (canvas) to work her magic? This artist may then want to specialise in a certain type of art- sculpting say or whatever tickles his pickle. Once again, for the sake of 'consistency', we now have an artist who can either draw, sculpt, etc; who has pens, pencils, paints and paper at his disposal and who may be mechanical or motivational.

So we have a 'recipe' for an artist, or maybe an algorithm can be constructed from the above things to deduce what type of artist you are? That sounds wrong before it's even been written down, since just because an artist uses paints today, doesn't mean that he'll use them for the rest of his life without trying other things.

It may be obvious where I'm heading with this, but the quote I happened to come across was:

"There are painters who transform the sun to a yellow spot, but there are others who with the help of their art and their intelligence, transform a yellow spot into the sun." Picasso.

Now the most important thing is that, whether you see the yellow spot as the sun, or the sun as the yellow spot depends on who you are. You might see a yellow spot, whereas I might see the sun. That's the beauty of art- it means different things to different people, and everyone sees something else. So I've said art is beautiful and since everyone is different, different forms of art will attract certain people.

Have I said all that needs to be said about artists? Oh wait, I forget that sometimes drawings paint a story. 'A picture is worth a thousand words' right? I mean that the artist may want to tell a story through her pictures, in the same way that a poet or author tells his story. You see as these artists paint more and more stories, the pressure on them increases. The audience becomes bigger and bigger, so the artist strives to keep the audience interested. Once again this actually depends on the type of artist. Maybe the mechanical one will have more pressure on him, since the motivational one 'goes with the flow' and works with inspiration. Whatever it is, soon the artist may inevitably present his stories to an audience- alas I forget to mention that this is by ultimately by choice. And it is the choice of an artist to take someone else under his wing- to guide and help another person or people to draw beautiful things. Obviously the students will be keen, since the artist has done much work which is to be admired and the student herself wishes that one day she is able to draw beautiful things like her mentor.

Obviously the artist doesn't hold the students hand whilst she draws- rather he guides her along. Showing her the world and its beauties from which the student can find inspiration. If the student's mechanical, then the artists job might be slightly easier. He says draw this using this and the student does as she's told. The student which is not mechanical, will obviously be the bigger challenge. For when asked to draw using a pencil, she might try using her pen hoping that the artist doesn't spot it! (Wishful thinking eh.) At the end of the day, the student seeks to be able to paint such a story which will not only impress the artist but also the audience.

So where am I going with this. Well as all random mumbo jumbo I ramble on about, this inevitably has something to do with maths. I have started with how an artist begins, however in terms of maths I will do the opposite. A lecturer, say my lecturers, are artists. They're the Picasso's and Da Vinci's of the world amongst us mere mortals. They've been through the 'motions' and are now showing their stuff to the audience. You have the mechanical ones and the inspirational ones, however like I said- where you might see mechanical I see motivation, like in the artists. These lecturers are all great in what they do. Their paintings are 'beautiful', and the stories told by them are never ending.

So one lecturers paints a story in the 9am lecture. You're enthralled by it- begging for more. It's beauty has scorched you, and you yourself now go in hunt for this 'beauty'. However in your endeavours you ultimately stumble and so consult the artist on how to progress to the next chapter of the story. The 'motivated' lecturer may say little to you, which will mean a lot whereas the mechanical one will say too much and might give the ending of the story to you! You continue in your struggles, but everyday 9am sharp you're there to hear the story continue, reinforced with the understanding that you have of it so far. As one story finishes, another starts. You never tire of listening to these stories, since in each different one you see something else. Each stirs different emotions within. Some might make you angry, but you don't avoid these because you want to story to quickly end. Others may have you hoping that they never end. The emotion that you feel from these stories, ultimately depends on the story teller- the artist- the lecturer.

But hold your horses. I aim to be consistent and so must once again must remind you that the emotion felt by me by one lecturer's story, will obviously be completely different to the emotion you might feel. We all have different types of paintings that we like and we might like a painting for different reasons. In a way I'm trying to indirectly justify, that my not liking a certain lecture is partly because I don't like the way the story has been told. The way it has been drawn out- I can't find motivation from it, so I'm not very fond of it.

Now this is when you come to admire the great artists who paint a beautiful story (Dr C, Prof S, Mr H.... ). They're the motivated artists who inspire you indirectly and you're thankful that you're their student. Each of these artist is different, and what their individual paintings give you is different. Dr C's patience, cool ability to explain things differently, whilst at the same time making you think for yourself. His 'humour' and also how he strives to help you (and his great lecturing style). Prof S's unique lecturing style, his funny stories, comments and the way he makes you want to learn! The way he knows who's talking and lets them know as well, and the passion with which he teaches Mr H for pushing me further and further away, whilst at the same time helping me to fly solo. Now these are the artists which leave a lasting impression on you, and you hope that they continue to do so. I could go on about this, since this list of fine artists which I've encountered is rather long. (I've not even got to my year 10 maths teacher yet!)

I'm stuck on where to take this next. I could ask you read the beginning of the post again and replace the word art by maths, and other words with maths terms but that won't make good reading! So I'll summarize. Maths is a picture- it's art. Painted by artists who go by the name mathematicians. Each artist is obviously inspired in a different way, and the picture maths is seen differently to each mathematician. What I see from it and what motivates me to is different to the next person. You know in the same way that when I 'sketch' I hope to one day improve, the same thing applies to the art of maths. 'W.l.o.g*' everyone can do 'basic' maths in the same way we can possibly draw. So we all have that platform to begin with. As you progress the tools you use to paint your picture advance, as do your mathematical skills. You may still be like me, still aiming to be able to draw properly, however you get something from these drawings which is more than your hope to draw properly. Maths might no longer be something you want to 'improve' in.

Initially when you learn to draw you imitate what other artists have done. For example you draw Lowry's pictures- not entirely the same, but they're a guide. The same applies to maths. You learn from other mathematicians. You might have a deadline to finish a painting- to finish the chapter, but now you're thinking with your head in the clouds. You look to your lecturers- the great artists- and see them drawing without deadlines. You see them finishing chapters and starting new ones- and they continue drawing. However your lecturers are also inventing new chapters and pages of art. That's your motivation now. You have the tools provided by the teachers, you know how to use the basic ones and possibly some of the less trivial ones. You aim to be able to use all of the difficult ones. To be able to confidently tell the story to someone else. Not necessarily 'invent your own' and present it to an audience, but rather know your trade.

Once again I ask myself about where I'm going with this. It's a circular argument- the 'procedure' of becoming an artist is not quite different to becoming a mathematician. Creativity is needed, which is where maybe I stumble. The passions there as is the motivation and desire. The tool box is quite elementary yet, so I will content myself by getting a fresh paper and drawing what I can. Maybe I'll draw something beautiful, like do a proof from the homework questions. However as always there will be a blank paper waiting. And upon stumbling I will look upon the great artists for motivation, and most times I hope to find it.

So maths is now like art. It emanates a beauty which certain people see, whereas to others the same emotion isn't felt. It's never ending, infinite and 'continuous' and the world is full of artists. Some we see, and others who we don't. Every artist seeks to fill his case with tools which he may require for his painting. Every mathematician hopes to do the same.


I apologise for the length of this post, and it's repetition. I have myself got lost within it, which has resulted in a loss of structure. The version you're reading now might be different from tomorrows (erm its 2am!). I at least wanted to say that I've done something productive today, hence this post!

* without loss of generality :D

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