Monday, 17 November 2008

Art, craft and higher mathematics

Went to an interesting Royal Society "conversation" last week between Mark Haddon, writer of 'The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night Time', and mathematician Marcus de Sautoy. The talk was rather tantalising as they brushed the edges of so many fascinating subjects, but there were some lovely and thought-provoking moments, in particular:

- Eureka moments. Haddon said that eureka moments for writers might just be getting a sentence right, nothing more dramatic, but that what he hears at those times is the sound of a very expensive car door closing.

- Explanations. Sautoy's work is all about trying to explain something so that everyone understands the same points. Haddon loves to include explanation, hence his enjoyment in writing 'Curious incidenct', but knows that most art is designed to be subject to multiple interpretations and should leave a lot of space for the reader. He illustrated this very well by reading a sentence or two of a scene by the sea then asking for shows of hands for pebbles v. sand on the beach, boats or none on the sea etc.

- Art and science. They really probably should have stuck to art and mathematics, as there is far too much to say on this topic for one little talk, but Haddon did point out that people may be too quick to look for the similarities - the differences may be more interesting (also, there is no reason why we should all appreciate the same things).

I asked how they saw craft, where art meets physical and technical parameters (such as the mathematics in knitting).

Haddon felt that craft was different in purpose and method to 'art' because of these limitations and because the main aim is to make something for a fixed purpose - I didn't have a chance to point out that most good craft involves everything that I think gives value to art, namely (and not exhaustively):
- creativity
- skill
- interpretation of a tradition
- possible symbolism
- personality
etc etc.
And when it produces something wearable or useful as well, that is surely a bonus...

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