Friday, May 2, 2008

A Mathematician's Apology

In About the Cubes and Cabtaxi Fleet Project, I quoted G. H. Hardy:
"A mathematician, like a painter or a poet, is a maker of patterns. If his patterns are more permanent than theirs, it is because they are made with ideas." G. H. Hardy (1877 – 1947)
This quote is from his essay, A Mathematician's Apology. The full text of that essay is here. I tacked the quote to the end of my project description just because it's a relevant and original thought. I in no way mean to imply that my projects are mathematics nor are they made with only ideas — I borrow some relatively simple math to bootstrap the creative process. Since Hardy wrote his essay, and probably before, I think we have seen artists make ideas as opposed to patterns. I doubt that the art is as permanent as most math, though. Hardy says,
"A painting may embody [an] 'idea', but the idea is usually commonplace and unimportant."
Ouch! Written in 1940, the opinions expressed might be interesting to artists for many reasons. Whether you're a young artist, an aging artist, an art critic, or simply have opinions on what constitutes a thing of beauty, the essay has something to say to you. It also has a section (28) on the relation of applied mathematics to war.

You may object to some of Hardy's other statements. For example, here out of context are a couple more:
"Statesmen despise publicists, painters despise art-critics, and physiologists, physicists, or mathematicians have usually similar feelings: there is no scorn more profound, or on the whole more justifiable, than that of the men who make for the men who explain. Exposition, criticism, appreciation, is work for second-rate minds."

"The mathematician's patterns, like the painter's or the poet's must be beautiful; the ideas like the colours or the words, must fit together in a harmonious way. Beauty is the first test: there is no permanent place in the world for ugly mathematics."

No comments: