Crossing Boundaries

When Dr. McCoy first announced she would be teaching “The Art of Steve Prince” back in the fall of 2018, I was immediately intrigued. I was not only struck by the powerful image that graced the flyer advertising the course but also by the impressive, and long, list of supporting faculty that would partake in it. I was perhaps most surprised to find Dr. Nicodemi’s name on the flyer since she is a professor of mathematics.

I asked myself why I felt so shocked to find her name there and thought back to my high school biology class, where my teacher taught us about the right brain vs. left brain theory. Since then, I have seen countless computer cases, posters, etc. that bear designs depicting the divisions between right brained and left brained individuals.

According to Healthline, the right-brain vs. left-brain theory maintains that one half of an individual’s brain is dominant over the other. Individuals who are said to be left-brained are alleged to be analytical, methodical, and particularly skilled in mathematics. On the other hand, individuals who are right-brained are said to be creative, artistic and to have a proclivity for art and music.

Though I have never fully subscribed to the theory of right- brain vs. left-brain, I have always viewed mathematics as divorced from more creative pursuits, such as art and writing, perhaps due to my exposure to the aforementioned theory. Additionally, the divisions I visualized between math and disciplines such as English or art were supported by my lack of ability for the former and affinity for and interest in the latter two.

However, my time in INTD 288 has already thoroughly challenged the arbitrary lines and incompatibilities I drew between the right and the left brain, mathematics and the humanities. This realization was founded in both the readings I have been assigned and the experiences I have already cultivated, despite the fact that it is only the beginning of the semester.

Indeed, many of the readings rely on math insofar as that the significance of the key terms discussed within the reading hinges upon one’s understanding of mathematical terminology. Particularly, several readings in Walking Raddy discuss the importance of the Second Line subculture in New Orleans.  Second Line has come to “identify a parade, funeral, music, dance, and the participants in [the] culture.” (Brock, 177)

However, one’s understanding of the term’s value is incomplete without knowledge of what a line is in the mathematical sense. According to Wolfram, a line “is a straight one-dimensional figure having no thickness and extending infinitely in both directions.” Further weight is added to the mathematical definition of a line when it is compared with its static counterpart, the point. As suggested by Dr. Lytton Smith, a line is the antithesis of a point in its dynamism.

But how exactly do these mathematical definitions and terms enhance one’s understanding and interpretation of the Second Line? In interpreting the lecture of Dr. Smith and his attention to the dynamism of the line, one can grasp the cultural and communal aspect of the Second Line.

The Second Line itself is made of many unique points, as it features individuals of differing backgrounds masking in various ways and playing a wide array of musical instruments, all in their own unique style. However, all of these separate, individual points come together in order to form a singular event, such as a parade or funeral, as well as an entire culture.

I believe that Wolfram’s definition, specifically its notion of infinity, allows one to comprehend the timelessness of the Second Line, being that it represents a tradition, and moreover, a culture, that has endured across generations. Furthermore, the concept of infinity present in Steve Prince’s execution of the “Urban Garden” is also able to inform one’s existing knowledge regarding the nature of infinity from a more mathematical perspective.

Specifically, when Prince first explained that he wanted the “Urban Garden” to appear as if it went on indefinitely he chuckled and pointed his laughter at Dr. Nicodemi, who joined him in his giggling. While they shared this moment, I thought to myself, of course, the idea that a piece of paper could be infinite would be funny to a math professor. They, more than anyone, understand that infinity is a concept we can never fully visualize, never mind convey on what appeared at the time to be a very flat, finite charcoal surface.

However, I believe that Steve Prince’s desire to and subsequent success in making the “Urban Garden” appear infinite enhanced both my understanding and appreciation for the concept of infinity. While infinity is an entity I have had to work with and visualize in many math and physics courses, I was never able to envision it quite as well as I was able to through the incredible work created by Steve Prince and the Geneseo community.

Not only did the garden appear to go on forever into the distance, but the sheer amount of art and expression that covered the walls seemed infinite, as well. Thus, my own mathematical understanding of infinity has been forever altered and enhanced by my near real-life encounter with the infinite.

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