Art and Time
An article by Dr. David Lewis Anderson
Art has always been an inspiration for scientists achieving great discoveries. One of my favorite examples begins with a simple question. How would a four-dimensional being see our world? What would our world look like to a being that could move through time as easily as we move through space?
They would probably see all three dimensions from all perspectives at once. Actually it was said that Albert Einstein often asked the same question in a slightly different way. He always wondered what would it be like to view the world if you were riding on a beam of light.
Remember as we move faster and faster toward the speed of light, at the speed of light we would see everything compact into a single point and we could see everything at once. But again, with most great vision and achievements, “to do one must first imagine.” And just like science fiction art has also inspired science in many ways.
In fact, while Albert Einstein was asking this very question, a great artist with no knowledge of Einstein’s work was already laying the groundwork for his new painting style called “Cubism.” This artist was none other than Pablo Picasso.
In importance, cubism has been compared to the revolutionary discovery of perspective in the renaissance. In a cubist painting the solid reality of an object located in space and fixed in time crumbled away. The visual segments of the front, back, top and bottom and sides of an object simple jump out and assault the viewer’s eye simultaneously.
Before this, for example, the different surfaces of a cube would require an observer to walk around through space to view them in sequence, and this takes time. But in a cubist painting the need to walk around an object in space and time is removed and the collection of visual fragments would let the viewer experience the entire object from a single point in space and time. Perhaps the only other place in the universe from which an observer could actually see these ideas would be from astride a beam of light.
Before Picasso’s cubism were artists like Monet and Cezanne who began experimenting with time in art in a very different way.
Monet, who painted the entrance to the Rouen Cathedral in forty separate works that in essence tried to capture a cathedral that existed in time as well as in three-dimensional space.
And Cezanne, who in a single painting, would move in time around the painting creating work with perspectives that were distorted.
Dali and Escher: Capturing Curved Spacetime and Manipulating Perspective
After Cubism and Einstein’s discovery many new art techniques would follow the new physics. Salvador Dali perhaps reflected the new physics of curved space and time better than any other artist.
M. C. Escher’s works use a clever manipulation of perspective. What appears to be correct to the eye, on closer examination, is wrong.
Escher takes what we think is our clear understanding of the shape and nature of three-dimensional space and makes us consider other kinds of geometry.
Another great artist, Constantin Brancusi, captured time in his sculptures in the most remarkable way. One of the most magnificent collections of his works is located in Romania.
These works show the great river of time turning the wheels of life in his table of silence which leads to a walkway through time to the gate of the kiss, a symbol of life, marriage and new beginnings.
And then on to the never-ending column, a remarkable work capturing the characteristics of time that both art lovers as well as physicists could appreciate.
To do one must first imagine. There are many more examples where art and science fiction have intuited science fact.