Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Math and Beauty - Part 1

A while back, I had briefly stopped at the age-old question of beauty's place in art - and, just as quickly, walked past without so much as a backward glance. However, I have now regained my bearings, and feel that I am ready to tackle this juicy question full on. So, I will make a fool-hardy attempt to construct a composite view of beauty by breaking it down and applying it to one art form in particular - mathematics.

Okay, so now you're probably wondering "Why math"?

Well, no...more likely, you're probably wondering "Holy crap! Since when is math an art!?"

Yes, dear reader, it is true, though it may not be recognized as such due to its long-time association with science - not to mention failed tests, bad report card marks, and skinny nerds in coke bottles and suspenders. However, to mathematicians, schools have been going about things the wrong way; no one who really enjoys math pursues it because it's useful - they pursue it for its own sake, because it brings beauty and pleasure to their lives. True, math has nudged its way deep into the sciences, economics, and other applied fields, but just because it can be useful in a few applications doesn't mean that's all it's good for. Take graphic design, for instance; its use is primarily practical, but beneath its polished, Type-A pedigree lies a shared lineage with the great works of Dali, Picasso, and other titans of creativity.

However, that said, math is distinct among the other arts in one crucial manner - it is, in essence, a "discovered art", as opposed to a "created art". Mathematicians will say that they are deducing art from the natural (or imaginary) world via the rules of mathematical logic. It's all very left-brained, to be sure, but theirs is an approach that suites nicely our purposes for defining beauty; since mathematicians "discover" their art, it's much easier to peg down rules for identifying beauty as it manifests, as opposed to - say - a painter, who creates and redefines art and beauty with every passing style and generation.

The above should not be taken as a formal defense of math as an art, nor as a complete explications of its methodological differences with the other creative arts - those would require far more space than I'm willing to allocate here. Still, from there we can move ahead to consider beauty's role in art since, believe it or not, mathematicians are obsessed with beauty. We won't tackle all this in one go, but rather distribute our thoughts over four posts, each centered around what I believe to be the primary components of mathematical beauty: brevity, symmetry, profundity, and truth. The question of why these four will, hopefully, be answered over the course of the discussion, starting with brevity and ending with the familiar (and tantalizing) junction of truth and beauty.

Any artists/writers/mathematicians/musicians - feel free to dive in with your own ideas on what beauty is and how it relates to art. So until next time...

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Quatrain II - "Autumn to Winter"

Do dead leaves rail when our sharp, mashing soles
Weld dust to vein, and stop earth in their holes?
What good is protest when voices are cut,
And Life's Long-shadow ensures they stay shut?

This little thing actually gave me more trouble than I had expected, but no matter - what do you think? The title gives a hint as to what I'm saying.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009


Yo. I've decided to alternate between sonnets and short-line poems; I'm doing quatrains
(four line ) for now, and maybe a couplet here and there. There's always been a strange law of inverses at work when it comes to writing; the shorter and more restricted the medium, the harder it is to make something that sounds halfway coherent, let alone pleasing. And, true to form, quatrains can be a pain since every word and punctuation needs to contribute to the total effect. I'll probably post a couplet and/or sonnet later this week, but for now, enjoy this little tid bit:

Candle Dance

But wonder! Does a burning flame
Know that its dance is one of pain?
But dance! You wrest from sunset's keep
Your joy in pain - sans silent sleep.
This was actually the last four lines of a longer poem, of which this - it shames me to say - was the absolute best part. Let me know what you think!

Friday, May 29, 2009

Scored a freelance gig!

I just found out yesterday I landed a not-for-profit freelance writing job at my local chamber of commerce! It's once a month - which will leave me(I hope) plenty of free time to finish up school and continue with my current writing projects - and provides a much-needed stepping stone to other freelance possibilities. I hope I can balance it with everything else I'm working on, so wish me luck!

Thursday, May 28, 2009

On perceptions of beauty - or, how the ugly truth ain't so ugly, after all!

What is your approach to "art"? How do you go about the creative process? What do you put into your work? What kind of responses are you hoping to get? Will this string of rhetorical questions ever end? Maybe? If they don't, would you leave? Okay, I'll stop now...but seriously, I do wonder how all of you artists out there (and I use that term very broadly as applied to artists, musician, writers, and mathematicians) view your works, particularly on that often-nebulous concept of beauty.

I won't go into all the philosophical hoopla that's been swatted back and forth about beauty for the past three thousand years; however, I think most of us agree that beauty is a prime directive for any artist hoping to live up to the moniker. Beauty is that wisp of emotion, that faint spark igniting the rush - however great or subtle - that eventually leads to fountains of praise, exaltation, or even a fair but glowing review. However you see beauty, however it's defined, it's always there, and it's respects must be paid for you to get noticed.

But hark! so goes a voice in the crowd. Surely, beauty isn't the force behind all art! Where lies the beauty of a war photograph, or the frantic, twisting bodies of the dead? Beauty has no place there - truth is their one true guide!

Hm...well, aside from flair for the dramatic (who uses "hark" these days?), our friend from the crowd does bring up an interesting point - what place does beauty have in a work clearly trying to tell a truth - one of either our violent natures, or our own mortality? For that matter, are the two mutually exclusive?

Way back in the year dot, it didn't matter - truth and beauty were wrapped into one seamless whole; the best storyteller was the one who relayed the "truths" of the tribe's history in the most pleasing and entertaining manner. Likewise, the visual arts have never been far from depictions of gods, great mortals, and other beings that peppered the thoughts of the ancient world. However, the past few centuries have seen great strides made for the sake of distinguishing "true" art (or art for art's sake) from "functional" art. Poetry, for one, is said to have fallen into two camps following the time of Shakespeare - one group lyrical, melodious, and beauty-focused; the other, intellectual, argumentative, and geared towards making a point.

Still, is it fair to draw such a sharp distinction? Can't art be both beautiful and truthful? Are the very distinctions themselves false, a dim reflection from binary minds obsessed with categorizations? After all, it's wise to make a distinction between the ugly and the grotesque - can't the truth, however ugly, still strive to beauty by another name?

Maybe. *shrug*. Hell, I don't know.

I'll probably go into much greater depth at a later date with what I believe is the connection between truth and beauty, but for now, it stands that I've always felt that the best artists are the ones who incorporated both ideals into their work. As a poet by inclination, this has lead me to believe that good poetry should be one part Ralph W Emerson, and one part Oscar Wilde. Emerson was a serious, instrumental philosopher whose works - while lacking anything resembling grace - got his point across loud and clear. Wilde, on the other hand, was the poster child of "good art is useless", and as such created works of great beauty and flow without saying anything remotely close to an argument. I've always been weary of either extreme, and sought a synthesis of the two in my own works.

Maybe later, I'll share my thoughts on how that went :). But for now, I would like your opinions: how do you approach art? Is any particular ideal in focus, or do you just move with the flow and not worry about those things?

Thursday, May 14, 2009

On Collaboration - or, stepping out of the f&#%ing cave

Being a writer is an often lonely, isolated endeavor; barring the hectic world of screenwriting and the other performing arts it's usually just you in your den or the school computer lab, huddled around an old notebook with dog-eared pages (or your two-year-old laptop with the funny "R" key that sticks when you press it), trying to drain your mind of the thoughts that, in all likelihood, have been slowly driving you insane since you were 10. Yeah, good times...

But every once in awhile, someone might come and waive a carrot big enough to entice us from our hermit caves, put on clean clothes for a change, shower and shave, and do something many of us aren't prepared to - work in a collaborative, equal venture with another writer. Now, this is different from just working with anyone on something like - say - a multi medium project; I myself have been locked in a very fruitful relationship with an artist on a graphic novel for the past few years. But working together is easy when you can immediately set out your respective roles, and decide who's leading the charge; however, two writers may need to undergo some serious adjustments to come to an understanding. Therefore, it helps if you have a good, thorough guideline to walk you through the delicate act of working together.

Unfortunately, I am nowhere-near qualified to give such a guideline.

But I can at least give some advice from my own experience on how to get off to a good start with what's probably the most important first step (cue random angel chorus): Understanding fully what makes you and your new partner different, and learning to respect and integrate those differences.

I doubt this'll surprise anyone, but you'd be amazed at how many take it for granted that the real fruits of a collaboration spring from how different you are from the other guy, and what those differences mean.

Take my case - a few months ago, I left my comfortable cave behind and ventured out into the open with another writer to finally get cracking on a graphic novel idea he had been flirting with for a while. At first, I was skeptical; I didn't want to leave my cave. I think most writers jealously guard our particular styles and feel we're giving up something about ourselves when we're forced to make changes that affect the way we write. Still, he is an old friend (and the carrot he held looked pretty damn tasty), so I gave it a chance, and immediately discovered two things: 1) We are very different in our approach to writing, and 2) that's actually okay. Most collaborators can expect some differences to pop up, but he and I are like night and day in so many ways - he's dynamic, intuitive, and very prolific; I'm more academic, and thoughtful of all my words and phrases. He sees the page as a wide-open canvas, and words as paint to splash and spread with all manner of colors, filling in the edges until it's time to move on to the next piece. I see the page as more of a blank word problem, with words serving as the right numbers, symbols, and equations to plug in and create the desired effect.

However, just as both a painting and a concise equation can mean "beauty" to the right crowd, our styles each have their own appeals, and by combining them we can spread a far wider net to our readers than either one of us can alone. Of course, there's going to be some initial grumbling as toes are stepped on and egos clash in the bid for who's style will predominate; however, those are no more permanent or damaging than that first annoying glint of the sunlight following years of hiding in a cave, and when all your rumples are smoothed out, you'll be amazed at how easy you fall into the rhythm, and how what you learn from your partner easily outweighs any initial problems you have. I can't speak for my friend, but I know I've become a little less structured and more intuitive in some of my projects, and I'm actually happy with that.

This isn't going to solve all problems, of course; you may not be compatible, or there are just too many differences to reconcile, or your partner is a complete and total jackass who isn't worth the time to spit on. The point, though, is to not avoid taking that chance in the first place - with very few exceptions, you stand to gain far more by saying yes than no.

So step out of that cave for a minute and take a stroll through the wilderness with a friend, even if only for a little while; because, just as there is more out there than the shadows on the wall you've been staring at all this time, you'll find that there are more ways than just yours to write a good story.

Please comment, if you like, and I'm curious as to whether artists go through the same thing when collaborating.

Friday, May 8, 2009


Greetings to all comers.

There is no doubt in my mind that as soon as humans learned to croak out that garbled, abstract, often cacophonous stream of noise we call "speech", they immediately set out to invent the enlightened pastime of storytelling. Through the ages and various mediums - the spoken word, verse, and prose - storytelling has been a prime vehicle through which we have shaped our world, and has show itself to combine successfully the instructed values of a philosophical discourse with an aesthetic embodiment shared only with the great works draped across the hallowed, dusty halls of the finest museums.

As for me, I'm still a relative newcomer to this - a writer for years, but just now getting my feet wet in the often-confusing world of book publishers, copyright laws, and literary agents. Here you'll get a window into my life as I stumble through all this, peppered with poems, thoughtful musings, book critiques, and maybe the random bs blurb, least the mood get too heavy.

If this appeals, then by all means, sit down a spell, and allow my to sit beside you. I promise not to frighten you too much.