Lines in Space

A little while ago I received the following note from Richard Shiff, referring to an earlier post: “I agree with these lines of yours, with regard to Judd …

‘I think that an artist like Judd would probably assent, but then his work says otherwise, because he takes aesthetic pleasure in repeating parallel lines and right angles. What could work like that ever be but a reaffirmation of the built environment? What could geometric abstraction ever be but proposals for more beautiful buildings?’

There’s a pragmatic side to this — the rectilinear things are relatively easy to build. Judd used other forms — sometimes circles — but not so often. But I guess you could argue that we think of circles as concentric, and, as with Chuck Close’s use of them, they amount to a variation on a grid — a grid that radiates from a point, as opposed to a grid that extends rhizomatically.”

Shiff helps me to clarify that there is in fact a big difference, practical and aesthetic, between the abstract infinities of two dimensional grids and real things made of pieces of material that happen to be straight. I’ve touched on this point briefly in two posts, but it deserves to be discussed further. A straight thing of a given length is just what it is; it can only be called a section of an infinite line by invoking some abstract mathematical principles that have no necessary relation to the real space that we move through. In this universe there are no infinities—they only exist in mathematics. I’ve always preferred two dimensional art to three for simple economy, but it may well be that the kind of pre-determined abstract procedures that I object to are just an aspect of the page, canvas and sheet of paper.

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