Week 2 - The Fourth Dimension - Miki Koga

Introduction of the fourth dimension in the 1900s enabled artists to reject laws of perspective and formalist art theory and experiment with an extra degree of freedom. What I found interesting in Linda Henderson’s “The Fourth Dimension and Non-Euclidean Geometry in Modern Art” is how different artists had their own take on the fourth dimension. Many artists interpreted the extra dimension in abstract art. Sculptors incorporated the time element of motion into their figures. The artist Sirato even proposed ‘cosmic art’ made entirely of gaseous material. Idealists came up with a utopian concept of the fourth dimension as a higher reality. Others saw it as a “new language” for the future. Strangely enough, although I am a science major and typically identify more with scientific explanations, the artists’ idea of the dimension as a new medium of expression resonates most with me. My sense of the fourth dimension also lies in Pablo Picasso’s description of Cubism: “It’s not a reality you can take in your hand. It’s more like a perfume. The scent is everywhere but you don’t quite know where it comes from.”

In all honesty, the article was a little confusing to follow. I didn’t come out with an explicit definition of the fourth dimension. But maybe that’s just it. Scientists speculate that it is time or another spatial dimension. For artists, it’s more of a symbol or rationale: a symbol of liberation, a rationale for new exploration of reality. The more vague the definition, the more freedom and possibilities there are in interpreting it. One thing that may be certain is that the mathematician, scientist, and artist’s correlative sense of intuition, innovation, and intelligence are instrumental in dealing with the fourth dimension.

Lastly, I wanted to touch on the whole idea of objective versus subjective, and quantitative versus qualitative as it relates to me. As a second year chemistry major, I’ve spent over a year now taking classes in the physical science and engineering series. In high school I was under the impression that science and math were strictly objective and quantitative. You solve a math problem to find a definitive answer. The answer is black and white, right or wrong. However, taking more advanced college courses, I’ve discovered that while the answer or equation may be objective and quantitative, the derivation process and theories used may not be so clear-cut. Furthermore, science and math involve a lot more gray areas and abstract exploration that call for visualization. Out of the box, visual thinkers excel. For example, picturing the geometry of molecules in organic chemistry helps make sense of what happens when they interact at the microscopic level. You’ll often find me fiddling with my model kit like a little kid playing with Tinkertoys. I draw mechanisms out or look up images in my textbook for a deeper understanding. Likewise, computerized images of various surfaces and scalar fields were essential when I took multivariable calculus. While the need for visualization does not constitute math and science as subjective or qualitative, what I’m trying to say is that the labels ‘objective and quantitative’ are constricting. The two subjects involve more than just number crunching and stoichiometry. There is theorizing that is subject to interpretation, as well as visualizing a microscopic world that involves a sense of intuition. Science may also be as objective as the assumptions being made, the established facts at that time, or the scientist behind an experiment. We shouldn’t be so quick to categorize or label things.

By: Miki Koga

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