Friday, October 24, 2008

The Importance of the Z axis

I'm no math major. I took various algebra classes in my undergraduate year and found myself thinking--sometimes aloud--that, if x=3.5, how does x feel about equalling that after all that work, especially when y=4.9?

At any rate, in addition to basic polynomials, there were the f(x) functions, as well as graphing, with the parabolas, the hyperbolas, the straight lines going off everlastingly in various directions. In pursuing poetic arts in later life, I'm finding that various aspects of successful art all trail back to mathematics, the one truly universal language other than laughter, perhaps.

Art, it seems to me, is the pursuit for some sort of beauty, over some sort of pretty thing. As Marianne Boruch mentioned in one of my classes, the difference between something being pretty and something being beautiful is tension. And it is this tension that one seeks in art. It is this tension that one seeks in any of the arts.

Holly showed me a picture this evening of park benches in fog. The pic was static at first glance, it had balance, sure, and if we were graphing, we had a bench on either side of the y axis, right on the x axis. Nothing new about that. Perfect symmetry. A sort of plus sign in landscape. An example of real life as artifice. The problem was that the pic was interesting. Why? Well, for one, was the oddly-shaped tree on the right side of the frame--something to throw off the balance of the identical benches. In addition, and most importantly, there was the fact that, just past the benches was a drop, some sort of unknown depth, beyond which the oddly-shaped trees were rooted, from which the trees thrust their branches toward the camera: the often-overlooked z axis, that of depth. Its so often, even with the talk of rising action and denouement, we get preoccupied with the x and y axes, but the big deal is with the most foreshortened one from our perspective, the z.

I had various flashy ideas for ending this bit, but, it's late, and most of those who read this blog know this already. My biggest question is how this sort of thing can be taught to artists of any stripe. Or whether it's even teachable.


Kristen said...

It's quite simple. All my art and photography teachers made it very clear that exacting, mathematical symmetry is the death of art.

Brian Barker said...

I think we need a spoken universal language as well!

I notice that Barack Obama wants everyone to learn another language, but which one should it be? The British learn French, the Australians study Japanese, and the Americans prefer Spanish. Why not decide on a common language, taught worldwide, in all nations?

An interesting video can be seen at A glimpse of the language can be seen at