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Cameron Booth

HERE [click here] is a short memorial biography of the artist, Cameron Booth (1892 - 1980), from the Minnesota Historical Society magazine, Minnesota History. He was a contemporary of my grandfather and the families knew one another when Booth's father was the minister of the first Presbyterian church of Glidden, Iowa from 1904 to 1910. Cameron Booth was living in St. Paul, Minnesota at the same time that I was in graduate school. When I first called him, at the request of my California aunt, I expected an illustrator at best. My aunt only knew that he'd been to art school and kept his hand in it. As explained in the transcript linked below, it was staggeriing to discover his place in the art world. He's obviously not a household name all over the world, but he knew many of the people who were the household names. He taught at the Art Students League in New York in the 1940's, lived in the same building as Jackson Pollock, was close to Hans Hofmann, and was a teacher of Erle Loran (cf. the transcript) and James Rosenquist. While studying at the Chicago Art Institute, he lived at Jane Addams' Hull House.

Booth thoroughly internalized the Bauhaus esthetic, especially like Hans Hofmann. He described painting only in abstract terms. So far as he was concerned, his the recognizable content in his representational work was not crucial to the art per se. He was good at portraiture, and a master of horses, but if he was talking about a painting, he would concentrate on the color and spatial composition. Dr. Albert Barnes' book, The Art in Painting, was one of the few books on painting that Booth said made sense to him. Barnes found no artistic value in the literary side of art and scorned over-emphasis on thematic content. For him (and Booth) the artistic drama was in the structure of colors and their spatial composition -- period. When showing his paintings to me, Booth would turn them upside down or look at them in low light in order to see if the light areas were holding the work together in a pleasing way. The integrity of the two dimensional surface of the canvas was important. A "hole" in the picture was bad -- that is, an area that seemed to be far behind the main elements of the picture. Motion was good. In the picture shown here, he would describe a kind of spiral in depth, where one feature would lead to another, and the gaze would keep moving. There should be movement out of the plane, toward the viewer, and back again. With Hoffmann, he would talk a lot about the "pushes and pulls" in the composition.

The painting on the right is a 1972 Booth painting that he sold to me. The reddish background had been blue sky originally, but that bothered him. Eventually he decided to paint over it and was much more satisfied.

Cameron Booth was intrigued with the use of the Golden Ratio in the composition of art work. [See Weisstein, Eric W. "Golden Ratio." From MathWorld--A Wolfram Web Resource.]. He seemed more pragmatic than mystical about it, just noting that artists did use it on occasion. He delighted in diagramming the construction of well known works to show how pervasive the appearance of the Golden ratio seemed to be. It pleased him greatly to show Golden Ratio analyses of Picasso paintings, because Picasso denied using any such means of composition. The existence of Golden Ratio harmonies in an artwork does not, of course, say that the artist intentionally constructed the measurements as such. It is quite possible that the artist placed parts in the "best" places "by eye" and that the resulting proportions just happened to match the Golden Ratio. The polymath neuroscientist, Warren McCulloch once claimed, emphatically, that he had shown experimentally that people are very good at recognizing the Golden Ratio subdivision of a line or rectangle. What was important to McCulloch was that the Golden Ratio is an irrational number, which makes it noncompuatable. Brain theory, therefore, should be cautious about embracing theories based on computability. McCulloch's claims were based on rather careful research that he did for his 1923 Columbia University Master's Thesis -- which I now have a copy of.

Booth was serious enough about his Golden Ratio analyses that he had a Golden Ratio measuring tool -- large enough to apply to museum paintings. Here is a diagram of it. The device looks like dividers or a compass. The major legs, on Booth's, were roughly a meter long, perhaps more. My father built a small model for me where the legs were slightly larger than popsicle sticks. The device works like this: Rigid links are hinged at each of the red dots. The ends marked A and C are placed at the extremes of whatever distance is being tested. The point F divides the length AC into Golden Ratio subdivisions. That is, length AF divided by FC is equal to AC divided by AF. The key to the geometry of this construction, to me anyway, is that point D is selected to divide AB in such a way that AD divided by DB is the Golden Ratio.

I thank Ralph Walde for helping me to brush up on my geometry enough to prove that F does indeed divide AC into the Golden Proportion in this construction.


Arthur Iberall

Arthur Iberall's daughters have put together a nice website of his work --- As a frenetic interdisciplinary physicist/engineer/civilizationist [etc], Ibby read voraciously in every field that he wanted to absorb into homeokinetics. He sought out the best introductions that would provide access to a given field. I had the feeling that he ferretted out classics in many areas. The books he depended on were cited often whenever he wrote about a related topic. Of all that has been written about Ibby and his work, I have never seen a compilation of these works nor did it appear that he thought of them that way. Nevertheless, I think he managed to define his own "great books" list without really trying. I thought it would be useful to identify and preserve this list. The examples will explain what I mean better than any description.

Iberall's Great Books list

Elliott, H. Chandler (1969). The Shape of Intelligence: The Evolution of the Human Brain. New York: Charles Scribner's Sons.
Kleiber, Max (1961). The Fire of Life. An introduction to animal energetics. New York: John Wiley & Sons.
Smith, Homer W. (1953). From Fish to Philosopher. Boston: Little, Brown & Co. [the story of the kidney]