From the Temple Floor: How Art and Math Are the Same Thing

I've known for a long time that it's useless to force creativity:  often the work will have to be done over.  Thanks to discussions peripheral to Gödel, Escher, Bach - an Eternal Golden Braid, I've learned to use math terminology (imperfectly) to further identify aspects of the process.

According to me, the difference between one person's brain and the next is the degree of pixelation each can discern.  How fine a grain are you able to manage?

I can work with very, very, fine grains; I have challenges taking in the forest.  I see not only the trees but pebbles, lichen, the tiny little things that creep therein.  I can discern minute intervals with alarming (to myself) accuracy, even when I haven't figured out what they are, but I can get lost trying to drive across town. Also, I can see wisteria vines, bats, and birds in the grounds left at the bottom of my coffee, so I'm interpreting that vision in scratchboard.

There's a place in every creative work where the characters take things into their own hands.  In Hofstadter-terms, which mode is this? M, I, or U?  I came to that spot in the current corvid-drawing and stopped, because I feared losing the original message.  I left the piece overnight and came back to it in the morning.  I found a series of intervals in the coffee-ground symbol that is integral to the message.  I scratched it in roughly and now I'm doing other things whilst my brain finishes precisely calculating those intervals in a language my muscles can execute.  The intervals measured are simultaneously several things:
  • black or nonblack
  • literal trenches, permeating a barely measurable layer of India ink
  • bats or birds
  • omens
  • millimeters
I have to be able to define every one of those aspects to accurately draw out (meaning to extract) the message. Like Ramanujan, I have a distinct feeling that I'm not creating but finding something that already exists; receiving a message, translating for others who don't see the fine grains I do.

As I wrote this out I realised the mistake I avoided by putting down the work last night:  I'd been making light and dark decisions by rote, relying on muscle-memory.  A "pretty" picture would have resulted, but one lacking the message, and perhaps that difference matters only to me.

I think there's some universality to be found, though; people with no background in math nor in art will know the right one when they see it.  It's spectacular to witness that light as it dawns on someone.

I have a closing random thought, thanks to a talk given by Dr. Brian Keating at the 2,410th meeting of PSW:  the very word universality means something different to me now.  Dr. Keating is on the cusp on proving that the multiverse exists. I love that so much.

Order the print "Crow in Bat Country: Here

Further Reading:
The Creativity Code - Marcus du Sautoy
Srinivas Ramanujan - an article on the man
The Man Who Knew Infinity - a trailer for the movie you should watch to get an overall feel for the man and also this blog post.
Gödel, Escher, Bach: An Eternal Golden Braid by Douglas R. Hofstadter Please visit one of the crucial pivot-points of my life.  Thank you, Roab Corpman, for not reading the book but telling me it was recommended.
Chapter 5: The MU-Puzzle
Has the dog Buddha-nature?  MU!   -Zen Koan


  1. Aw, this was a very nice post. Spending some time and actual effort to produce a great article…
    but what can I say… I hesitate a lot and don't manage to
    get anything done.


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