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Cubism and Relativity with a Letter of Albert Einstein Paul M. Laporte With an Introduction by Rudolf Arnheim INTRODUCTION The following letter, written in German by Albert Einstein, was addressed on 4 May 1946tothelate Paul M. Laporte,who at the time was teaching art history at Olivet College in Michigan and later was for many years on the faculty of Immaculate Heart College in LosAngeles. Laporte had explored relations between art and science in a number of particular investigations,and he had asked Einstein forareaction toanearlyversionofapaper of his on cubism and the theory of relativity. He published a translation of Einstein’s reply in an article entitled “Cubism and Relativity” in the Art Journal of 1966, Vol. 25, pp. 246-248. At asuggestion of GiorgioCareri tothe editors of Leonardo, Einstein’s letter is republished here, in a slightly revised version of the translation by Laporte and Max Could. It is a document of considerable interest, not only because commentsonartby thegreat physicistare rare,but alsobecause onesidedreadingsof the theory of relativity have been all but universal outside the precinct of physics itself. In keepingwith the relativistictrend of recent philosophy, Einstein’s theory has been taken to be a scientific confirmation of the view that the presumed objectivity of reality is an illusion and that there is no way of transcending the subjective perspectives of particular bases of reference. Ironically, Einstein himself adopts this approach when he asserts in his letter that in the arts the “modes of connection” (Verkniipfungsweisen),that is,thestructural ties thatcreateawork’sunity,arebasedon traditional convention; but he strongly objectstotheviewthatthisrelativismgoes to the core of his conception in physics. In fact, itwastheinvariance of lawsof nature ReprintedfromArrJourna/,Vol.25,No. 3(1966),pp. 246-48, with the permission of the College Art Association of America. 0 1988 EAST Pergamon Pressplc. Printed in Great Britain. 0024-094X/88 $3.00+0.00 he wanted to maintain beyond their accidental manifestationinanyparticular system of coordinates. Thus while, as he says,thephysicist can limit himself almost always to one such system for the description of the objective situation, the cubist painters endeavored to show the simultaneity of several such views or rather their unwillingness to commit themselves to just one of them. Hence Einstein’s protest. Rudolf Arnheim Honorary Editor April 1987 In 1945, in an essay which I then called Cubism and the Theory of Relativity, I elaborated the notion that there are certain analogies between these otherwise highly divergent manifestations of contemporary culture. In both, the old mode of paying attention to body or mass while taking the manner of observation for granted, was abandoned. Instead, attention was paid to relationships, and allowance was made for the simultaneity of several views. The consequence of this new approachwas, respectively,aseeming “distortion” or dissolution of bodies in painting, and the famousconvertibilityof mass and energy in the Theory of Relativity. From a metaphysical point of view, space and time were no longer considered as absolutes, as in Newtonian physics. Rather, they were considered as interdependent,just astheyactuallyare in our commonsense experience. Space and time formed a space-time continuum which, in turn, was but a form of human experience. In painting, the symbol for this space-time continuum was the pattern of geometric shapes characteristic of Cubism, and experienced only by an observer who scanned the picture. I submitted my essay to Albert Einstein because I felt I should not publish it without getting his opinion. Here is his answer [11. LEONARDO, Vol. 21, NO.3, pp. 313-315,1988 4 May, 1946 “I find your comparison rather unsatisfactory. If I disregard thepractical value of a science i do see a similarity between the scientific and the artistic activity. Both attempt to assemble from parts a whole which by itselfis indistinct- (ein an sich unuebersichtliches Ganzes) in such a way that the resulting order creates distinctness and clarity. The distinctness and clarity thus achieved give us a satisfaction ofahighorder. Thisoccursboth inscienceandinart.Inscience,theprinciple of order which creates units is achieved through logicalconnection while, inart, the principle of order is anchored in the unconscious. Theartisticprinciple of order is always based on traditional modes of connection (Verknuepfungsweisen) which arefelt as equally compelling by those who live in this tradition...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1530-9282
Print ISSN
0024-094X
Pages
pp. 313-315
Launched on MUSE
2017-01-04
Open Access
No
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