Why combine math and art?

There are at least four really good reasons to combine math and art.

1. It's good for your brain

It is well known that the brain is divided into two hemispheres, left and right. Broadly speaking, the left hemisphere is characterized as analytical, logical, systematic, digital, and rational - features commonly associated with mathematics. The right hemisphere is characterized as intuitive, random, holistic, visual, sensory, and spatial - features commonly associated with art. "Left-brained" people learn through phonetic and analytical methods, while "right-brained" people learn through visual methods.

These two hemispheres are connected by a thick bundle of nerve fibers called the corpus callosum. One interesting finding is that the corpus callosum is highly developed in concert pianists, people who excel at using both hands together in an activity that is both mathematical and artistic, systematic and sensory.

There is a growing body of scientific evidence linking performance in math with the arts, most notably with music. One example is the so-called "Mozart Effect", in which students were found to perform better on tests shortly after listening to Mozart's music, as if there was a temporary raising of the I.Q. One controlled study found that students who played piano regularly over a period of time tested approximately two grade levels higher in mathematics than students who did not.

Our brains continue to develop and change throughout our lives, and challenging the brain to solve puzzles and learn new skills has been demonstrated to delay cognitive decline as people age.

While the brain's development and functioning and how it relates to math and art is a topic only sketchily understood at present, it does seem clear that combining mathematics and the arts is good for the brain.

2. It can turn kids (and other humans) on to mathematics

For reasons outlined above, some people who don't respond well to the traditional equation-oriented presentation of mathematics do respond to a visual presentation of mathematics. M.C. Escher is a perfect example; he was a poor math student in school. It wasn't until he visited the Alhambra in Spain as an adult and saw the wonderful geometries of Islamic art that he became turned on to mathematics. In fact, his response was so strong that his art was completely transformed from more-or-less traditional landscapes and still lifes to the fantastic mathematical art for which he is famous.

3. It leads to a different kind of art

Historically, mathematics played an important role in art, particularly in perspective drawing; i.e., the means by which a three-dimensional scene is rendered convincingly on a flat canvas or piece or paper. Mathematics does not play an overt role in most contemporary art, and in fact, many artists seldom or never employ even perspective drawing. The emphasis is more on emotions, social issues, or psychology. One reason for this is probably the fact that artists tend to be strongly "right brain" individuals who were not particularly good at mathematics in school.

While there is nothing wrong with this sort of art, a lot of people don't relate to it very well. In addition, diversity in all things is good and healthy, and this includes diversity in art. Art that is overtly based in mathematics is in general quite different from mainstream art. It is for the most part more intellectual and less visceral. Some people find it more interesting than mainstream art, while others find it less interesting. In general, one has to take time to think about it. It runs counter to many trends in society, such as watching television, which encourage people to turn their minds off.

4. It reveals things about nature

Mathematics is the language of nature. It is an amazing and wonderful fact that our universe obeys simple mathematical formulas. For example, the gravitational attraction between two bodies varies precisely as the inverse of the square of their separation. Mathematical discoveries reveal something inherent in the fabric of our universe. The Mandelbrot set wasn't invented by a man, it was there waiting to be discovered. Our world is a sphere which orbits the sun in an ellipse, many flowers possess rotational symmetry, and the system of arteries in the human body can be described with fractal mathematics.

An in-depth formal understanding of more complex mathematical concepts is not within the grasp of many people, but mathematical art can visually convey these wonders to a wide audience. Mathematical objects are often simultaneously familiar and enigmatic. Mathematical art can convey this sense of wonder and help reveal the mathematics inherent in nature.

Math + Art topics

mathartfun.com home

© 2000-2015 Tessellations