Working Space Revisited: Painting
But, after all, the aim of art is to create space — space that is not
compromised by decoration or illustration, space within which the
subjects of painting can live.
Frank Stella, Working Space (1986)
How non-optical technologies and non-Euclidean geometries influenced twentieth century artists in conceptualizing their views of space and representation has been much discussed (Henderson 1983; Kevles 1997). One of the remarkable trajectories is the effect both events had on views of space representation, although often the connections were not explicitly stated. Looking at the work, however, we can see where the nineteenth century discoveries propelled artists to represent and think about space in novel ways.
Space representation in particular has been a major concern in art throughout recorded history. Issues multiplied in the twentieth century due to the number of ways the human population redefined space. Photographic composition, for example, emphasized how much detail we miss when looking at physical reality and the degree to which cropping and time influence a reproduction of space. X-rays, on the other hand, challenged the very nature of what we see. Revealing elements we cannot see directly made it clear that inner space was more robust than the subjective/objective dichotomy formerly applied to this domain. Non-Euclidean mathematics further challenged notions of linearity and logic.
Mathematical space, for example, takes the form of a noun. It might be conceived as a set of elements or points satisfying specified geometric postulates and identified in terms of Euclidean or nonEuclidean systems. Or, topologically, space might be defined as the infinite extension of the three-dimensional field in which all matter exists. As a verb, however, “to space” implies a process of organizing and arranging. Given that visual art production includes this active