July 3, 2018

Why the history of maths is also the history of art 2

Mickey Hioe

In her new book Mathematics and Art, historian Lyn Gamwell explores how artists have for thousands of years used mathematical concepts – such as infinity, number and form – in their work. Here she choses ten stunning images from her book that reveal connections between maths and art. \(ax^2 + bx + c = 0\)

When I was a graduate student in art history, I read many explanations of abstract art, but they were invariably inadequate and misleading. So after completing my PhD, I went on to learn the history of biology, physics, and astronomy, and to publish a book detailing how modern art is an expression of the scientific worldview.

Yet many artworks also express the mathematics and technology of their times. To research Math and Art I had to learn maths concepts like calculus, group theory and predicate logic. As a novice struggling to understand these ideas, I was struck with the poor quality and confusing content of illustrations in most educational books. So I vowed to create for my book a set of cogent math diagrams that are crystal-clear visualizations of the abstract concepts.

As a lecturer at the School of Visual Arts in Manhattan, I wrote this book for my students, such as Maria, who told me she was never good at history because she couldn’t remember dates, and for Jin Sug, who failed high school algebra because he couldn’t memorize formulae. I hope they will read this book and discover that history is a storybook and that math is about captivating ideas.

Here are ten images followed by descriptions: