MC Escher



MC Escher was a Dutch artist known for his bizarre, abstract designs and ideas. Some of his more famous works include Relativity, a mind-bending array of staircases headed in all the wrong directions; Ascending And Descending, an optical illusion that shows figures moving forever up (or down?) an endless staircase that goes in a loop; Waterfall, a similar illusion that shows a waterfall that continuously flows up (or down?) hill in an endless loop; Another World, a bizarre work that shows a moonscape viewed from impossibly different angles through several different windows at once. All of these bizarre abstractions can be found in MC Escher’s work.


MC Escher corresponded with the famous physicist Roger Penrose, who designed an object called the Penrose Triangle. The Penrose Triangle, which you may know as the impossible triangle, is a triangular object that is obviously, visibly impossible. It’s set up so that it appears to be visually congruent without actually being physically impossible. Penrose and Escher had similar artistic and mathematical interests, so it’s no surprise that they knew of one another. Many of Escher’s artworks have a mathematical or symbolic and abstract bent, and this is something that would appeal to a mathematical physicist like Roger Penrose. Penrose, for his part, is also responsible for so-called Penrose Tilings, which are endless tilings that have mathematical regularity but never actually repeat.


A common theme in MC Escher’s work is recursion, or the ability of a thing to be self-made or self-created. One of his works features two hands drawn on a piece of paper. Despite being drawings, the hands in the picture are holding pens, and the pen held by each hand is in the process of drawing the other hand. Recursion and “bootstrapping” of this kind features very prominently in MC Escher’s work. Like many people working in his time, he was fascinated by self-reference. Circularity, recursion, self-reference, spirals, infinity signs, and infinite loops. All of these things are heavily featured and referenced throughout MC Escher’s oeuvre.


Another person enamored of MC Escher’s work is the physicist and cognitive scientist, Douglas Hofstadter. Douglas Hofstadter is well known for his books on consciousness. One of them is called I Am A Strange Loop. Another one is called Godel, Escher, Bach: An Eternal Golden Braid. In both books, Hofstadter makes arguments about the nature of consciousness. He claims that consciousness always involves certain kinds of self-reference. MC Escher’s work features heavily as a thematic illustration in Hofstadter’s books. Hofstadter often alludes to Escher drawings as examples of what Hofstadter calls “strange loops”, or structures that involve a particular kind of self-reference and recursion. Many mathematicians, scientists, and other assorted eggheads have found something interesting in the art work of MC Escher.


MC Escher’s work is very famous and can be seen everywhere from math classrooms and art galleries to art and fantasy t shirts and other merchandise. His paintings are definitely a unique thing to have on your shirt or on your wall.

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