The Image and Imagination of the Fourth Dimension in Twentieth-Century Art and Culture
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One of the most important stimuli for the imaginations of modern artists in the twentieth century was the concept of a higher, unseen fourth dimension of space. An outgrowth of the n-dimensional geometries developed in the nineteenth century, the concept predated the definition of time as the fourth dimension by Minkowski and Einstein in relativity theory. Only the popularization of relativity theory after 1919 brought an end to the widespread public fascination with the supra-sensible fourth dimension between the 1880s and 1920s. initially popularized by figures such as E. A. Abbott, Charles Howard Hinton, Claude Bragdon, and R D. Ouspensky (as well as science-fiction writers), the fourth dimension was a multivalent term with associations ranging from science, including X-rays and the ether of space, to idealist philosophy and mystical "cosmic consciousness." This essay focuses on the differing approaches to higher spatial dimensions in the cubism of Pablo Picasso and Juan Gris, the suprematism of Kazimir Malevich, and The Large Glass project of Marcel Duchamp in the early twentieth century. It concludes by examining contemporary artist Tony Bobbin's thirty-year engagement with the mathematics of four-dimensional geometry and computer graphics, as well as his current work with knot theorist Scott Carter.