Expressions of the marvellous plasticity of mind…

Anyone who has ever laid brush to canvas in an attempt to capture something — person, place, or object — realistically will be all too aware that painting is an exercise in mathematics as much as it is an exercise in the fine arts. Oliver Jeffers makes this literal in a recent exhibition of his paintings, which combine the beauty and insight of contemporary portraiture with a series of mathematical equations and concepts offered by Dr Hugh Morrison.

Now, I am not a numbers person. I am a word person. A visual person. Hell, before mobile phones were pervasive, I used to rely on my sister to calculate the tip when we went out to restaurants. Even so, I am constantly intrigued by the overlap of art and science, language and mathematics, and so on. And the concept behind these artworks, as far as I’m concerned, is as engaging as the images themselves.

But I’m really glad Jeffers doesn’t expect mathematical idiots like myself to work out the solutions to these equations. Apart from the third one below. I’m sure I got that one right…

 ‘Not a Something but Not a Nothing Either’ (2006)

Oil and vinyl on canvas

“Saul Kripke uses the [plus sign inside circle] function to establish that there is no fact, either in one’s mind (inner) or in one’s past behaviour (outer), that fixes the meaning of the words one utters.”

 ‘Portrait with Interplay Between Inner and Outer (The Weight of the World)’ (2006)

Oil and vinyl on canvas

“The weight of a body of mass m and distance r from the centre of the Earth (mass M) arises from the gravitational attraction between the Earth and the body.”

 ‘Portrait with Russell and Whitehead (Worlds Apart?)’ (2006)

Oil and vinyl on canvas

“In their Principia Mathematica Russell and Whitehead attempted to derive all of mathematics from a small number of primitive concepts in logic. Kurt Gödel demonstrated that this project could never succeed. The mathematical incompleteness identified by Gödel is mirrored in Wittgenstein’s anti-Platonic later philosophy. For Wittgenstein the ability to perform simple addition is founded on training rather than logical primitives. Wittgenstein’s approach has no need of a strange Platonic world of absolutes where the laws of addition are laid out on the ‘rails to infinity.'”

A whole lot more awesome paintings, as well as illustrations, sketches and links to Oliver Jeffers’ fabulous children’s picture books (my favourite is The Incredible Book-Eating Boy) can be found here.

PS – The full quote, from which the title of this post is derived, reads: “Man is unique not because he does science, and he is unique not because he makes art, but because science and art are equally expressions of his marvellous plasiticity of mind.” Dr Jacob Brownowski (snurched from Jeffers’ exhibition catalogue.)


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