Math and Art: Bringing Together Two Seemingly Opposite Subjects

Connecting Math and Art Can Be Creative and Give New Perspectives

When most people think of math and art, they may assume that they are on opposite sides of the spectrum. For instance, people often associate mathematics as within the “STEM” field, an acronym for Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics. The arts in the general sense usually refers to creative activities. These would be fields such as the visual arts, music, literature, dance, and other similar endeavors. 

But mathematics can really be thought of as both a science and art. Many projects can be implemented to explore the connections between them together.

History of Math and Art

In fact, throughout history and in every culture, there has been an overlap of mathematics and the arts involving elegance, patterns, perspective, symmetry, and shapes, to name a few. For instance, Ancient Greek, Roman, and Renaissance artists and mathematicians shared concepts in their works, such as focusing on certain ratios, like the Golden Ratio, or in utilizing perspective. Certain cultures, like in Africa and the Middle East, as well as others, are renowned for their patterns in fabrics, carpets, and mosaics that play with transformations, tessellations, and symmetry. The Origami of Asia delights people in the classroom and for recreation as well. Even today, fabric artists, like quilters, explore many mathematical concepts.

Local Mathematical Artist

One local fabric artist who connects math in some of her work is Sheri Smith. Smith is a retired University of Michigan Professor in the School of Art and Design. She continues to create her art. 

Some of her work that relates math to art includes: “Chords of the Nonagon,” “Digital Expansion of Pi,” “Hypercube,” “Latin Square,” “Mayan Sacred Calendar 1,” “Mayan Sacred Calendar II,” “Multiplication,” “Pascal’s Triangle,” “Sand Drawing,” and “Several Kinds of Symmetry.”

Her book, Sherri Smith Works, recently released by the U-M, is now available.

But there are other ways that students and all of us can relate math to the arts as well. We have a few projects you can try at home.

Math Poem

Students can express their feelings about mathematics as well as elaborate on the significance of certain mathematical terms in a math poem. Be it a sonnet, haiku, limerick, or free verse, it enables the exploration of various parameters mathematically and linguistically.

Math Dance

Students can perform their own choreographed math dance, mathematical gymnastics, or math yoga. This will help them express certain mathematical forms in a kinesthetic manner. If they do not feel comfortable with the dance themselves, they can describe or draw the moves.

Math Movie 

Students can explore the various films that explore mathematics in a dramatic manner. They can analyze both the mathematics and related drama in certain films like Hidden Figures or Good Will Hunting. Students can then make their own short films relating to mathematics, such as how to solve a certain problem.

Math and Visual Arts

Students can take a special mathematical number such as Pi, Euler’s Number, or the Golden Ratio and construct a visual representation of the number. This is the case of Sherri Smith’s work “Digital Expansion of Pi.” Her work is a literal visual representation of the fabric of each digit of the never-ending decimal.

Math Music

The book Godel, Escher, Bach outlines common themes within the mathematical work of Godel, the visual artist Escher, and the composer Bach. Works such as the “strange loop” where one moves upwards or downward through a system, but still one arrives where one started. Students will find that it can be challenging to find ways to represent certain musical concepts, such as a fractal or concept of infinity musically. These mathematical concepts of randomness and a whole host of other mathematical concepts have been explored in music, both consciously and unconsciously.

Full Disclosure: Donna Marie Iadipaolo is an educator, who began her teaching career in 1990. For her undergraduate studies, Iadipaolo graduated with honors from the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor. Iadipaolo studied engineering, mathematics, education and earned three teaching certificates. She also earned two Master’s Degrees, one in Mathematics Teaching and Learning and also a Master’s of Arts. Iadipaolo recently completed her Education Specialist degree in Curriculum and Instruction. She is an online math teacher and curriculum developer at Clonlara School.

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