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How Art Shapes Our Lives: Crop Circles

Optical art, fractal art, abstract art and many other forms of art rely heavily upon geometric shapes and spaces.

Geometry is a language! The math that it takes to create shapes that are comprised of points, lines and curves is thought to be universal. Through art, geometry can be employed in many ways — from simple design to giving the impression of movement.

Victor Vasarely, Vega-Nor, 1969

For instance, the work of Hungarian born Victor Vasarely (1906 – 1997) can really play tricks on one’s eye. Considered the father of op art — or optical art — his illusions are comprised of only circles, rectangles and other simple geometric forms.

Yet, some of his lithographic art on two-dimensional paper will appear to warp into three dimensional images. Using a minimum of color and shape, Vasarely’s work has gone on to inspire many other optical and kinetic artists.

And then there is the famous work of Maurits Cornelis ‘M.C.’ Escher (1898 – 1972) whose surrealistic art utilized geometry and math as a method of creating optical illusions. The use of both plane and projective geometry is evident in much of his work.

M.C. Escher

Impossible stairways, mathematical shapes and different perspectives were all employed by Escher to confuse the logic of space. His work became very popular during the rapidly changing 1960s. Even today, many of his more-than one thousand paradoxical drawings have been recreated on everything from lunch boxes to mouse pads.

Those two were certainly great artists of the 20th century, but a more mysterious geometric art form has recently garnered much attention around the world. Namely, the strange and sometimes unexplainable shapes and patterns that have been appearing in crop fields of wheat and rye.

These crop drawings are notable because it has yet to be discovered how some of these intricate works of art are being made. Only lasting for a few days, the designs are created mostly at night, sometimes within a window of just a few hours. Some of these are very large and unbelievably complicated in scope and design. If you look at pictures taken by pilots from above, it’s hard not to believe that it would take a team of many people days just to complete the layouts.

The crop circle phenomenon started receiving attention in the 1970s, mostly in England near cultural monuments such as Stonehenge. Some early European drawings even suggest that crop circles have been reported on and off for centuries.

At least that is the claim in the many books, tapes, blogs and films on the subject these days. These complicated works are being reported as occurring on every continent including North America. Residents in our own Salinas Valley were amazed by a beautiful crop drawing just a few years ago.

While some individuals have taken credit for making simpler crop circles with crude plywood tools, there really is no explanation to date for the larger, more elaborate designs. Human footprints are not found leading up to, near or around some of these massive etchings. The phenomena has been given over to many theories which include everything from messages from aliens or time travelers  to the weather. From what I can see, this is a very carefully made form of art which demonstrates high intelligence. A big hoax, who knows? But, it is great fun to speculate about who, or what is responsible for creating these mysterious formations.

Regardless of how they are being made, these unusual drawings are a remarkable mathematically engineered form of art! Namesake circles, triangles, pentagons, hexagons, labyrinths, ropes and ribbons are just some of the elements that seem to be communicating through this unique media.

For more on the subject, here is an interesting movie that shows the perspective and scale of some of the recent crop drawings.

Crop Circles, Signs Wonders and Mysteries
Steve and Karen Alexander, published by Chartwell Books 2006

Sal Maccarone is a foothills-based artist and craftsman

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