Monday, February 23, 2009

23: vanishing interminably

Remember way back when all the paintings were flat?

Then one day people started drawing with perspective. Yeah, I know, like the artists who came before never brought their own perspective to their work. But that's what we call it, you know? This technique of arranging the lines on the page or the canvas in such a way that they mimic more closely what our eyes perceive in a three-dimensional world, rather than replicating mere snapshots of the two-dimensional surfaces that define the three-dimensional spaces. The new technique of using perspective in making images added depth to a pictorial world that had been largely limited to length and width.

If this concept of perspective drawing is sounding familiar to you, odds are your brain is connecting it with the related term, vanishing point. You know, the point on the horizon where all the lines meet—all the lines that in two dimensions appear parallel but, viewed in a three-dimensional perspective, appear to converge at some point in the distance.

A vanishing point is called such, I suppose, because it is the locus where all the lines leading to it seem to disappear. From a theoretical standpoint, it is not too difficult to understand that, from a point where all lines ultimately converge, no single one of them can continue along the path it had previously set out for itself. There is nowhere for it to go but forever into that same point, along with all the other lines.

The thing about the vanishing point is that it is not really the point where things vanish. Rather, it is a spot where, when we look at it, we can tell that things are vanishing, that -ing suffix locking the verb in the present progressive tense, which means that everything in this scene is in a continual and interminable state of vanishing, always vanishing and therefore never finally vanished. The logical conclusion, then, and indeed the typical effect on the viewer as well, is that the vanishing point betrays the sense that all the elements of the scene in question in fact go on forever.

The bridge vanishes, but only from our imperfect sight. We strain our eyes to follow the lines as they extend infinitely, but try as we might, we cannot really comprehend eternity. We can't really see it. Not yet, anyway; not here, not in this now.

(photo credit: Jim Frazier)

1 comment:

chrome3d said...

It´s so strange to think that artists dabbled with flat paintings for so long.