Sunday, October 3, 2010

Art, poetry, and mathematics -- and Rafael Alberti

On September 23 I was privileged to hear Annalisa Crannell, mathematics professor at Lancaster's Franklin and Marshall College, speak on "Math and Art:  the Good, the Bad, and the Pretty."  This informative presentation, sponsored by the Mathematical Association of America (MAA) and pitched toward undergraduates, showed ways that artists use mathematics. 
     Crannell is an active promoter of interdisciplinary activity, particularly between mathematics and the arts. A multi-year summer workshop in mathematics-and-art has been held at the Franklin and Marshall campus; also, Crannell and collaborator Marc Frantz (Indiana University) have prepared a text, VIEWPOINTS: Mathematical Perspective and Fractal Geometry in Art, for students and colleagues.
     As I reflected on Crannell's presentation, my thoughts turned toward artists who also are writers.  One of these is Rafael Alberti (1902-99), a popular Spanish poet.  Translations of two of Alberti's sonnets, which illustrate both the vision of the poet as artist and his familiarity with mathematics, are offered below. 

 To Line  (A la línea)    by Rafael Alberti

To you, contour of human grace,
geometry that dances, straightens, twists,
delirious in light's embrace,
calligraphy that thins the finest mist.

To you, submissive when most arbitrary,
mysterious in astronomy,in roses,
vital to poets and to visionaries,
unwavering from the course your law imposes.

To you, expressing aptly the distinct,
complexity, a spider's labyrinth
in which the caught form moves about, held short.

Your mansion's the infinity of blue.
The point blazing in space is singing you.
To you, Painting's scaffold and support.

Both of these poems have been translated by University of California professor and poet Carolyn Tipton  --and both are found in Alberti's collection To Painting;  Poems (Northwestern University Press, 1997).  The original Spanish, side-by-side with the translations, may be found at Google Books.

To Perspective  (A la perspectiva      by Rafael Alberti

To you, the perfect hoax, through whom the eye,
like a reaching hand, extends its view,
moving to what is far from what's close by,
to paler amethyst from deepest blue.

To you, feigner of depth and endless space,
giving to flat planes profundity,
through whom, beyond the balcony's iron lace,
we think that we can just make out the sea.

To you, value prized above all others,
hazy diminution of the colors,
architecture, music of the spheres.

On you, pictorial space lays its foundation.
Line & number sing your celebration.
To you, the tiller by which Painting steers.

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