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9.2.13

What's The Point?

Georges Seurat
One of my favorite art movements is Pointillism, created by Georges Seurat in the late-1800s in France.  It is a perfect example of the marriage of art and science, both in its origin and in the effect it has had on all our lives.

At a time when science was discovering the nature of light and playing with photons (lit. 'pieces of light), Seurat started playing with the idea of using discrete dots of color to create images.  His most famous work, A Sunday on the Island of La Grande Jatte, is a massive canvas which exhibits a dual characteristic.  Up close, it is nothing more than a huge field of colored dots, but if the viewer stands across the hall and takes in the entire image, it resolves into a scene of people enjoying a park in mid-century France.

The reason this is significant, beside the fact that Seurat played with light and color in a way that could have only been discovered because of science, is that we view images online and in the newspaper because of the Pointillist art movement.  In other words, Seurat created pixels (lit. 'picture elements').

The Pointillist movement is itself a point in the fabric of history, which by itself is a curiosity, but when viewed in the context of world events, it resolves into a Bigger Picture.  We connect the dots of scientific inquiry with artistic interpretation and see a picture on our computer terminals.  Fascinating stuff, really.

Daniel Boorstin
One of my favorite historians is Daniel Boorstin for the same reason...he is an historical pointillist.  His work draws together seemingly insignificant dots of history into coherent pictures of events that have affected all our lives.

Very small things...such as Isaac Singer moving the eye of a sewing needle from the back end to the pointed end, or when Frank McNamara began offering charge-a-plates to customers in good standing.  Think of the bast changes to modern life that can be attributed to these seemingly humble dots.

Another interesting dot on the canvas of history is the recent discovery of Richard III's carcass underneath a parking lot in Leicester, England.  By itself, this is just one of those 'hmmm' moments as you fly past to the latest test match results.  But if you stand back just a little to take in the whole canvas, a rather interesting picture emerges.

The Plantagenet line of English kings included the Yorks (Richard III), as well as Edward III, a distant relative of Kate Middleton, current Duchess of Cambridge, who is married to William, son of Charles and Diana.  Diana was of the House of Savory under the Stuart lineage, while Charles is a Windsor of the House of Hanover.  Basically, the Tudors and the Stuarts have ruled England for the past 400 years or so, which saw a violent uprising on the part of the Jacobites, who fervently believed in the divine right of kings versus the power of Parliament to appoint kings.

All of which shines a light on the discovery of Richard III's carcass beneath a parking lot in Leicester based on "a dream" that a long-time researcher of the king had leading her to dig up the parking lot and find a skeleton with scoliosis that matches the depiction of Richard III in William Shakespeare's play by the same name, though the king's reputation has been scrubbed since Willie's time.

The identity of the skeleton was confirmed via DNA testing of a Canadian carpenter who happened to be living in London and had no idea he was a distant relative of the king.  This in turn shines the light back on William and Kate who are expecting a baby (babies) that will reunite all these competing factions back into a single individual who will be third in line for the throne of England thus drawing both the Stuarts and the Jacobites back into power and leading one to assume that the Windsors will then claim both divine and secular right to power.  And since the London Square Mile is the only piece of real estate on Earth that the Roman Church does not have title to, this could all lead to some very interesting jostling at the realm of humanity that most of us never see or think about.

It also calls into the picture the supposed prophesy of aledged St. Malachy whose vision says that the next pope (after Benedict XVI) will be the last, to be known as Peter the Roman.

So, when you stick all these little dots on the canvas and stand back about 30 feet or so, a rather interesting picture begins to emerge, a Tapestry of Time, as it were.  And when this picture is merged with all the other Pointillist portraits of Time, we start to see a most interesting view of humanity and our small place in it all.

John Donne famously said, "If a clod be washed away by the sea, is Europe not the less?"  We can extend the metaphor to Pointillism, in that if a single dot is removed, the richness of the overall image is diminished.

And thus science, art, history, and all the rest are integral parts of a Grand Image, a sort of metaphorical and metaphysical Sunday in the Park with Georges.  There is nothing in our lives that does not fit into a Big Picture.  Each dot creates the whole and the whole is inseparable from the dots that compose it.

If we expand Pointillism into three dimensions, we arrive at fractals, which are again a merging of art and science.  Here we find that each part merges to form the Big Picture, but that the Big Picture is also each part.  And like a fractal image, history swirls around in delicate designs that continually echo each other without ever repeating.

So, Rene Descartes and August Fresnel, two Frenchmen, helped develop the theory of light as a wave, rather than a particle as Newtonian science would have it.  This led French artist Georges Seurat to play with dots of color to make coherent pictures as an artistic expression of the competing theories.  Seurat's Pointillism led to the ability of print, film and video to create images using discrete dots of color and light, which in turn led to Quantum Theory because Einstein called the little packets of light quanta.  These in turn were shown to either radiate or reflect off of objects and strike cones and rods at the back of the eye, which in turn created packets of energy that traveled down the optic nerve and were reassembled as dots of information in the occipital lobe of the brain.  These images were then blended with similar images built from dots of energy that created sound, taste, smell, and feel to in turn create what we call the Known Universe.  The Known Universe then expands in spiral form like a giant fractal, and fractals are the products of very simple mathematical formulae that control everything from the formation of snail shells to the shapes of spiral galaxies.

The next time someone tells you that something is an isolated event, take a magnifying glass and tell them to look closely at the TeeVee screen or computer monitor.  Better yet, take them down to the Art Institute of Chicago and go stand in from of the 7-foot by 10-foot image of "Un dimanche après-midi à l'Ile de la Grande Jatte".  Then, for some additional fun, take a trip to Paris and the renowned L'Orangerie to have a look at Monet's Water Lillies, which fill two ovoid rooms in the basement.

Pretty amazing what a blind man can do with light and color...