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## Modernisms 1900-1980

### Course: Modernisms 1900-1980 > Unit 9

Lesson 5: Minimalism and Earthworks- An Introduction to Minimalism
- The Case for Minimalism
- Carl Andre, Lever
- Donald Judd, Untitled
- Robert Morris, (Untitled) L-Beams
- Robert Morris: Bodyspacemotionthings at Tate Modern
- The Case for Land Art
- Nicolás García Uriburu, Coloration of the Grand Canal, Venice
- Dorothea Rockburne: Drawing Which Makes Itself
- Richard Serra, Tilted Arc
- Richard Serra, "Intersection II"
- Richard Serra, "Torqued Ellipse IV"
- Richard Serra, "Band," 2006
- Robert Smithson, Spiral Jetty
- Smithson, Spiral Jetty
- Smithson, Spiral Jetty (quiz)
- Walter De Maria, The Lightning Field
- Maya Lin, Vietnam Veterans Memorial
- Lin, Vietnam Veterans Memorial
- Christo and Jeanne-Claude, The Gates
- Christo and Jeanne-Claude, The Gates
- James Turrell, Skyspace, The Way of Color
- Minimalism and Earthworks

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# Dorothea Rockburne: Drawing Which Makes Itself

Contemporary artist Dorothea Rockburne talks about mathematics, magic, and materials. To learn about how art changes over time, enroll in one of MoMA's courses online. Created by The Museum of Modern Art.

## Want to join the conversation?

- What math did she learn "for artists"?(7 votes)
- I'm not sure, but for an idea of the beauty of mathematics in nature, check out Vi Hart's videos on spirals, Fibonacci numbers and plants on Khan here!

https://www.khanacademy.org/math/recreational-math/vi-hart/spirals-fibonacci/v/doodling-in-math--spirals--fibonacci--and-being-a-plant--1-of-3(7 votes)

- What is transitive geometry?(6 votes)
- First, there's nothing in math called simply
**transitive geometry**. Therefore, the artist is either:

1.) Saying "transitive geometry" when she means something else entirely

or

2.) She, frankly, has no idea what she's talking about (when it comes to*mathematics*, at least).

And, since everything else she says about Math is either**incorrect**(such as the statement at3:15that "everything that moves in the universe moves on an elliptical") or not particularly (mathematically) sophisticated (such as what she says about the "golden ratio"), I'm inclined to believe #2.

Now don't get me wrong--she's clearly a great artist--it's just that it sounds to me like she knows about as much about math as Stephen Hawking probably knows about art history.

[Note: I apologize if this answer sounds overly critical.]

And, as an aside, Stephen Hawking is technically a**physicist**and not a**mathematician**, per se (I mentioned him because contemporary physicists tend to be more well-known than contemporary mathematicians).(6 votes)

- At3:42, Dorothea Rockburne is flipping through a mathematics book it would seem. What book is this? I would love to study whatever she studied!(3 votes)
- 3:44how does everything working perfectly wrong?(2 votes)
- I believe Rockburne is saying that one shouldn't be satisfied once everything seems to be working perfectly. Rather, she might say, it's better to keep exploring, to keep searching for new truths. This path may result in failures, but it can also lead to magical discoveries.(2 votes)

- here is a question. drawing it seems, or in particular art drawn with pencils vs. paint seems to have become underminded. Very few people are willing to buy hand drawn art no matter how good the quality. the only places that appreciate such art are tatoo parlors. why are drawings made with pencil slowly becoming completely irrelevant?(1 vote)
- This is an artist that needs far more research to understand the material and work, as I was compelled to question how she used the crude oil in her art. The materials she uses is fascinating, but how she uses them is where I go now to find out more.(2 votes)

- What does she mean by saying "if everything adds up and works out well you're on the wrong trail" is she saying you have to struggle to find meaning in the work?(1 vote)
- It's like writing a sermon..... those that just fall together and don't set anyone's teeth on edge are too safe to be worth the trouble.(1 vote)

- Before Max Dehn took her to study math in art form how would she create her works?Was she more successful with the help of Max?(1 vote)

## Video transcript

Dorothea: Drawing is the bones of thought. I always find I'm reading or seeing or doing something and the only way I can think is with my hands and drawing. I went to Black Mountain College in 1950. Two weeks after I was at Black Mountain I must have said something because Max came up to me and said, "I want you to take my class." Max Dehn was a mathematician. While people came from all over the world just to study with him, he never had more than three students, but the students he had were really significant. When he asked me to take
his class, I was horrified. I said, "I've had no training;
I can't take your class." He said, "You haven't been math poisoned" which is right. He said, "I will teach you
mathematics for artists." He showed me mathematics in nature. He wasn't teaching a mathematician, he was teaching an artist
how to think mathematically. It was so wonderful and so heady. I felt big! (laughs) I was studying transitive geometry and I wanted to find
a transitive material. I located the carbon paper,
and by folding and unfolding the sheets, I could
transpose the equations I'd been working into
a materialized artwork. I was very interested in the fact that the whole room should represent the art. I painted the walls with the brightest white paint you could find. As people walked into the room, their footprints became
part of the drawing. That was my plan. I lived on Chamber Street. I was working all kinds of jobs at once plus I had a child I was raising, and I didn't have the money to buy art supplies; they were expensive. So I went across the street
to the hardware store and I bought crude oil,
gallons of crude oil. People look on the crude oil as a big insight into material. Believe me, it was not. It was accident. (laughs) But I also had done some tests and I knew what it would do and I knew that it had
incredible properties. Color-wise it fell right
into my Beaux-Arts training because this was a natural,
in the earth material and to me it has a lot of color. By this time I'd been looking
at a lot of Italian painting and realized that they were
all based on the golden mean. I was very familiar with what the golden mean looked like. Our bodies are all golden mean. This is all golden mean. Everything is, you begin
to realize. (laughs) It's a magic proportion. If you do anything using
it, you can't go wrong. It's bound to be a success! It's amazing! I wanted to work with curves because everything that
moves in the universe moves on an elliptical. I was able to work with the watercolor very, very thick, so it
has a real presence to it. The canvas has been painted white, so that acts like the
white surface of paper, and it resonates through the colors. When one is dealing
with art or mathematics, there's always an element of magic. If everything adds up and works out well, you're on the wrong trail.