Vanishing Point, page 1
Produced by Greg Weeks, Bruce Albrecht, Stephen Blundelland the Online Distributed Proofreading Team athttps://www.pgdp.net
BY C. C. BECK
_In perspective, theoretically the vanishing point is at infinity, and therefore unattainable. But reality is different; vanishment occurs a lot sooner than theory suggests ..._
Illustrated by Martinez
That? Oh, that's a perspective machine. Well, not exactly, but that'swhat I call it. No, I don't know how it works. Too complicated for me.Carter could make it go, but after he made it he never used it. Too bad;he thought he'd make a lot of money with it there for awhile, while hewas working it out. Almost had me convinced, but I told him, "Get it toworking first, Carter, and then show me what you can do with it betterthan I can do without it. I'm doing pretty well as is ... picturesselling good, even if I do make 'em all by guesswork, as you call it."That's what I told him.
Y'see, Carter was one a them artists that think they can work everythingout by formulas and stuff. Me, I just paint things as I see 'em. Neverworry about perspective and all that kinda mechanical aids. Never evenwent to Art School. But I do all right. Carter, now, was a differentsorta artist. Well, he wasn't really an artist--more of a draftsman.
I first got him in to help me with a series of real estate paintings I'dgot an order for. Big aerial views of land developments, and drawings ofbuildings, roads and causeways, that kinda stuff. Was a little too muchfor me to handle alone, 'cause I never studied that kinda things, yaknow. I thought he'd do the mechanical drawings, which shoulda beensimple for anybody trained that way, and I'd throw in the colors,figures and trees and so on. He did fine. Job came out good; client wasreal happy. We made a pretty good amount on the job, enough to keep usfor a coupla months without working afterwards. I took it easy, fishingand so on, but Carter stayed here in the studio working on his ownstuff. I let him keep an eye on things for me around the place, and justdropped in now and then to check up.
The guy was nuts on the subject of perspective. I thought he knew allthere was to know about it already, but he claimed _nobody_ knewanything about it, really. Said he'd been studying it for years, and themore he learned about it the more there was to learn. He used to coverbig sheets of paper with complicated diagrams trying to prove somethingor other to himself. I'd come into the studio and find him with thumbtacks and strings and stuff all over the place. He'd get big long rulersand draw lines to various points all over the room, and end up with alittle drawing of a cube about an inch square that anybody coulda madein a half a minute without all the apparatus. Seemed pretty silly to me.
Then he brought in some books on mathematics and physics and otherthings, and a bunch of slide rules, calculators, and junk. He musta beena pretty smart guy to know how to handle all those things, even if hewas kinda dopey about other things. You know ... women and fishing andsports and drinking; he was lousy at everything except working thoseperspective problems. Personally, I couldn't see much sense to what hewas doing. The guy could draw all right already, so I asked him whatmore did he want? Lemme see if I can remember what he said.
"I'm trying to get at things as they really are, not as they appear," hesaid. I think those were his words. "Art is an illusion, a bag oftricks. Reality is something else, not what we _think_ it is. Drawingsare two-dimensional projections of a world that is not merely three- butfour-dimensional, if not more," he said.
* * * * *
Yeh, kind of a crackpot, Carter was. Just on that one subject, though;nice enough guy otherwise. Here, look at some of the drawings he made,working out his formulas. Nice designs, huh? Might make good wall paperor fabric patterns. Real abstract ... that's what people seem to like.See all those little letters scattered around among the lines? Differentkinds of vanishing points, they are. Carter claimed the whole world wasfull of vanishing points. You don't know what a vanishing point is?Lemme see if I can explain. Come over to the window here.
Ya see how that road out there gets smaller and smaller in the distance?Of course the road doesn't really get smaller--it just looks that way.That's what we call a vanishing point in drawing. Simple, isn't it?Never could understand why Carter went to so much trouble working outall those ways to locate vanishing points. Me, I just throw 'em inwherever I need 'em. But Carter claimed that was wrong. Said they wereall connected together some way, and he was gonna work out a method toprove it.
Here ... here's a little gadget he made up to help his calculations.Bunch of disks all pivoted together at the center; you're supposed toturn 'em around so the arrows point to the different figures and things.Here's the square root sign, I remember Carter telling me that. This oneis the Tangent Function, whatever that means. Log, there, is short forlogarithm. Oh, he had a bunch of that scientific stuff in his head allthe time; dunno whether he understood it all himself. He built thisthing just before he put together the perspective machine there.
Silly-looking gadget, huh? All them pipes and wires and that little cubein the center ... don't try to touch it, it ain't really there. You justthink it is. It's what Carter called a teteract, or a cataract ... no,that ain't the right word. Somepin' like that--tesser something orother. There's a picture like it in one of Carter's books. Hurts youreyes to look at it, don't it?
That's what Carter thought was going to make him a lot of fame andmoney, that perspective machine. I told him nobody'd ever made a drawingmachine yet that worked, but he said it wasn't supposed to makedrawings. It was just supposed to give people a view of what realityreally is, instead of what they think it is. I dunno whether he expectedto charge money to look through it, or whether he was gonna look throughit himself and make some new kinda drawings and sell 'em.
No, I can't tell you how it works--I said before I don't know. Carteronly used it once himself. I came in here the day he finished it, justas he was ready to turn it on. He was just putting the finishing toucheson it.
"In a few minutes," he told me, "I'll have the answer to a question thatmay never have been answered before: what is reality? Is the world athing by itself, and all we know illusion? Why do things grow smallerthe farther away from us they appear? Why can't we see more than oneside of anything at a time? What happens to the far side of an object;does it cease to exist just because we can't see it? Are objects notpresent nonexistent? Because artists draw things vanishing to points,does that mean that they really vanish?"
* * * * *
A wack, that's what he was. Nice guy, but sorta screwy. He kept sayingmore goofy things while he was finishing up the machine, about how he'dfigured out that all we knew about vision and drawing and so on must bewrong, and that once he got a look at the real world he'd prove it.
"How about cameras?" I asked him. "Take a picture with a camera and itlooks just about the same as a drawing, don't it?"
"That's because cameras are built to take pictures like we're used toseeing them," he said. "Flat, two-dimensional slices of reality, withoutdepth or motion."
"Even 3-D moving pictures?" I asked.
"They're closer to reality," he admitted. "But they are still only crosssections of it. The shutter of a movie camera is closed as much of thetime as it is open. What happens in between the times it's open?
"You know," he went on, "people used to think matter and motion werecontinuous, but scientists have proved that they are discontinuous. Nowsome of them think time may be, too. Maybe everything is just imaginary,and appears to our senses in whatever way we want it to appear. We areso well-trained that we see everyt
"We'd probably all go nuts!" I told him. He just smiled.
"Well, here goes," he said. "It's finished. Now to find out who isright, the scientists and philosophers who say reality is foreverunreachable, or the artists who say there isn't any reality--that wemake the whole thing up to suit ourselves."
He moved one of those pointers you see there, and squinted around at thedifferent scales and dials, and then stepped back. That littletessy-thing appeared, real small at first. Just a point; you couldhardly see it. I couldn't see anything else happening, and thought hewas gonna do somepin' else to the machine. I turned to look at Carter,and saw his face was white as a sheet.
"Good Gawd!" he says, just like that: "Good Gawd!" That's all.
"Well," I says to him, "who was right, the scientists or the artists?"
"The artists!" he sorta screeches. "The artists were right all the time... there _is_ no reality! It's all a fabric of illusion we've createdourselves! And now I've ripped a hole in that!"
He gives a strangled hoot and goes hightailin' outta here like somepin'was after him. Jumps in his car and roars off down the road anddisappears.
Naw, I don't mean he really disappeared--are you nuts? Just roared ondown the road till he got so small I couldn't see him no more. Youknow--the way things do when they go farther and farther away. Happensevery day; that's what us artists mean by perspective.
The machine? Well, I dunno what to do with it. If Carter ever comes backhe might not like my getting rid of it. I was thinking mebbe I'd put itin the hobby show at the county fair next week, though. Ya notice howthat funny-looking cube inside there gets bigger every time you look atit? There ... it just doubled its size again, see? People at the fairoughtta get a big kick outta that. No telling how big it'll get with allthose people looking at it.
But come on, let's go fishing. We'd better hurry or it'll be too late.
This etext was produced from _Astounding Science Fiction_ July 1959. Extensive research did not uncover any evidence that the U.S. copyright on this publication was renewed. Minor spelling and typographical errors have been corrected without note. Informal spellings have been retained.