Vanishing Point

by C.C. Beck

Public Domain

Science Fiction Story: In perspective, theoretically the vanishing point is at infinity, and therefore unattainable. But reality is different; vanishment occurs a lot sooner than theory suggests.

Tags: Science Fiction   Novel-Classic  

That? Oh, that’s a perspective machine. Well, not exactly, but that’s what 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 he was working it out. Almost had me convinced, but I told him, “Get it to working first, Carter, and then show me what you can do with it better than I can do without it. I’m doing pretty well as is ... pictures selling 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 everything out by formulas and stuff. Me, I just paint things as I see ‘em. Never worry about perspective and all that kinda mechanical aids. Never even went to Art School. But I do all right. Carter, now, was a different sorta 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’d got an order for. Big aerial views of land developments, and drawings of buildings, roads and causeways, that kinda stuff. Was a little too much for me to handle alone, ‘cause I never studied that kinda things, ya know. I thought he’d do the mechanical drawings, which shoulda been simple 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 was real happy. We made a pretty good amount on the job, enough to keep us for a coupla months without working afterwards. I took it easy, fishing and so on, but Carter stayed here in the studio working on his own stuff. I let him keep an eye on things for me around the place, and just dropped in now and then to check up.

The guy was nuts on the subject of perspective. I thought he knew all there was to know about it already, but he claimed nobody knew anything about it, really. Said he’d been studying it for years, and the more he learned about it the more there was to learn. He used to cover big sheets of paper with complicated diagrams trying to prove something or other to himself. I’d come into the studio and find him with thumb tacks and strings and stuff all over the place. He’d get big long rulers and draw lines to various points all over the room, and end up with a little drawing of a cube about an inch square that anybody coulda made in a half a minute without all the apparatus. Seemed pretty silly to me.

Then he brought in some books on mathematics and physics and other things, and a bunch of slide rules, calculators, and junk. He musta been a pretty smart guy to know how to handle all those things, even if he was kinda dopey about other things. You know ... women and fishing and sports and drinking; he was lousy at everything except working those perspective problems. Personally, I couldn’t see much sense to what he was doing. The guy could draw all right already, so I asked him what more 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,” he said. I think those were his words. “Art is an illusion, a bag of tricks. Reality is something else, not what we think it is. Drawings are two-dimensional projections of a world that is not merely three- but four-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 paper or fabric patterns. Real abstract ... that’s what people seem to like. See all those little letters scattered around among the lines? Different kinds of vanishing points, they are. Carter claimed the whole world was full 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 out all those ways to locate vanishing points. Me, I just throw ‘em in wherever I need ‘em. But Carter claimed that was wrong. Said they were all connected together some way, and he was gonna work out a method to prove 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 to turn ‘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 one is the Tangent Function, whatever that means. Log, there, is short for logarithm. Oh, he had a bunch of that scientific stuff in his head all the time; dunno whether he understood it all himself. He built this thing just before he put together the perspective machine there.

Silly-looking gadget, huh? All them pipes and wires and that little cube in the center ... don’t try to touch it, it ain’t really there. You just think it is. It’s what Carter called a teteract, or a cataract ... no, that ain’t the right word. Somepin’ like that--tesser something or other. There’s a picture like it in one of Carter’s books. Hurts your eyes to look at it, don’t it?

That’s what Carter thought was going to make him a lot of fame and money, that perspective machine. I told him nobody’d ever made a drawing machine yet that worked, but he said it wasn’t supposed to make drawings. It was just supposed to give people a view of what reality really is, instead of what they think it is. I dunno whether he expected to charge money to look through it, or whether he was gonna look through it himself and make some new kinda drawings and sell ‘em.

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