I have a friend who took A levels in maths and art. If I had been allowed, I would have taken A levels in maths and art. I wasn’t allowed (school rules dictated that physics and chemistry were the better bedfellows to maths and I was advised to consider English or history over maths).
At the time I thought it was a little bit odd to like maths and art at the same time (as so did my school). I’ve been thinking recently that perhaps it is not. The last time I thought about maths and art I looked at statistics. Now I’m thinking more pure maths.
Maths is a very visual subject, and this is the element of maths I liked at school. I loved algebra (especially quadratic equations and differentiation and integration and the curves and shapes they generated), polygons and trigonometry. I found the less-visual aspects much more challenging.
I also have synaesthesia which means I see numbers in colours, which perhaps strengthens my inclination to connect maths and art.
It is a well-known fact that people who like music often like maths, and visa versa. Scientists have studied in depth the connections between music and maths. But how about people who like art – are they allowed to find quadratic equations appealing?
Consider this equation:
Professor David Percy from the Institute of Mathematics and its Applications thinks this equation is pure beauty. He says: ‘It is simple to look at and yet incredibly profound, it comprises the five most important mathematical constants – zero (additive identity), one (multiplicative identity), e and pi (the two most common transcendental numbers) and i (fundamental imaginary number). It also comprises the three most basic arithmetic operations – addition, multiplication and exponentiation.’ (BBC News 2014).
What exactly is it? I’m not sure. But it is lovely.
Looking into what the internet says, it seems that mathematics and art actually have had a long relationship. The golden mean, which is the famous aesthetically-pleasing ratio, has mathematical roots. Why do we ‘naturally’ find this mathematically-calculated ratio harmonious? Did the maths part of it come first, or did mathematicians decide that a pleasing shape needed a formula? Much has been said about this, so I won’t repeat it here.
Artists such as da Vinci and M. C. Escher have used mathematics in their art (and so have many other artists, not necessarily consciously). With the use of digital technology, artists are more able and obviously to mix mathematics and art than they used to be able to (at least accurately).
It intrigues me that code can be turned into art, or indeed that art can be translated as code. Patterns interest me, especially infinite ones. The world is full of patterns.
As an artist, I may think I am being spontaneous and original but in fact a mathematician could probably look at my work and create a formula for it. Perhaps that should depress me, but it doesn’t.
Gallagher, J. 13 February, ‘Mathematics: why the brain sees maths as beauty’ BBC News. Available at: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/science-environment-26151062 [last accessed 21 February 2014]
Mathematics and Art on wikipedia. Available at: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mathematics_and_art [last accessed 21 February 2014]