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
hat? Oh, that's a perspective
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
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,
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.
No, I can't tell you how it works—I
said before I don't know. Carter
only used it once himself. I came in
here the day he finished it, just as he
was ready to turn it on. He was just
putting the finishing touches on it.
"In a few minutes," he told me,
"I'll have the answer to a question
that may never have been answered
before: what is reality? Is the world
a thing by itself, and all we know
illusion? Why do things grow smaller
the farther away from us they appear?
Why can't we see more than one
side 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 not present
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 saying
more goofy things while he was
finishing up the machine, about how
he'd figured out that all we knew
about vision and drawing and so on
must be wrong, and that once he got
a look at the real world he'd prove
"How about cameras?" I asked
him. "Take a picture with a camera
and it looks just about the same as a
drawing, don't it?"
"That's because cameras are built
to take pictures like we're used to
seeing them," he said. "Flat, two-dimensional
slices of reality, without
depth or motion."
"Even 3-D moving pictures?" I
"They're closer to reality," he admitted.
"But they are still only cross
sections of it. The shutter of a movie
camera is closed as much of the time
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 were
continuous, but scientists have proved
that they are discontinuous. Now
some 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 are so
well-trained that we see everything
just as we are taught to see it by
generations of artists, writers, and
other symbol-makers. If we could see
things as they really are, what might
"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 is
right, the scientists and philosophers
who say reality is forever unreachable,
or the artists who say there isn't
any reality—that we make the whole
thing up to suit ourselves."
He moved one of those pointers
you see there, and squinted around at
the different scales and dials, and then
stepped back. That little tessy-thing
appeared, real small at first. Just a
point; you could hardly see it. I
couldn't see anything else happening,
and thought he was 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 created ourselves!
And now I've ripped a hole in
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 and disappears.
Naw, I don't mean he really disappeared—are
you nuts? Just roared on
down the road till he got so small I
couldn't see him no more. You know—the
way things do when they go
farther and farther away. Happens
every day; that's what us artists mean
The machine? Well, I dunno what
to do with it. If Carter ever comes
back he might not like my getting rid
of it. I was thinking mebbe I'd put it
in the hobby show at the county fair
next week, though. Ya notice how
that funny-looking cube inside there
gets bigger every time you look at
it? There ... it just doubled its size
again, see? People at the fair oughtta
get a big kick outta that. No telling
how big it'll get with all those 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.