So what, then, does this work of art, and craft, and abstract mathematics have to do with the first question posed about the reality of immaterial forms, or with the appropriateness of mixing science and faith? Green has described her work as a “pursuit of truth and beauty,” and further said that “scientists, mathematicians, and artists all have an awareness of the infinite and eternal in the finite.” It would be easy to hear that and affirm the complementarity of the infinite and the finite, which is nevertheless a gentle way of reasserting their distance. Indeed, a form of Platonism in which the abstract (or spiritual) realm is assumed to be the source of perfect forms, which must necessarily be debased (rather than just limited) when translated to the material is the default position of many today, whether they claim to believe or disbelieve in God.
The Christian view of the relationship between matter and spirit, the infinite and the finite, requires a complicated and on-going struggle to live out that confluence, not just argue about it. There is not one pure “spiritual ideal” in a heavenly “out there” for which we must always be ever striving in vain on account of our material selves. Rather, our ideal is the “ordinary” way spirit overlaps with matter, exemplified in the extraordinary person and life of Jesus. His example was not just to be the confluence of matter and spirit, to demonstrate that the one must flow into the other to fulfill God’s own claim on the whole creation as “very good,” but also to be the source of a flow of such integrated living in the entire human community. It was not enough for him to represent an ideal, an “abstract” of obedience, or love, or compassion; God’s purpose was that He be the material form of those things, and give Himself to be touched, and held and pierced and broken.
Debates over how mind emanates from the brain, whether consciousness is another thing in itself, and whether art, literature, and culture are “real” in the way wood and chisels are real will continue. But the solidly fine-grained work of Sue Green and other artists can help us literally hold onto the otherwise-immaterial and direct our attention to the fact that it is a hallmark of our humanity—of the imago Dei—to exist at the intersection of what we are and what we believe.
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Susan Greene graduated from Wellesley College with a degree in Chemistry. She taught high-school mathematics before turning to a career doing research in both university and industrial laboratories as a liquid chromatographer. After early retirement in 2001 Susan studied sculpture at Virginia Commonwealth University in Richmond, Virginia, and with sculptor, furniture-maker and teacher Stephen Cooper. She continues to inverstigate mathematics and keeps her hand in the sciences through tutoring and lecturing. A longer article on her work (from which the quotes above are taken) appeared in the Spring 2011 issue of Hyperseeing, the journal of the International Society of the Arts, Mathematics, and Architecture. Several additional images of the Genus 2 Manifold being rotated in space by the sculptor may be seen here.