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News from Mathnasium of Littleton

Math and Art = Best Friends

Sep 9, 2019

Art appeals to everyone in different ways. Some people consider themselves artists and like to create, others like to critique and try to figure out what different art pieces mean and some like to just sit back and enjoy it. Whether you’re an expert artist in a certain medium or you just like to enjoy art, it would be hard to imagine a world without art, just as it would be hard to imagine a world without math! But what happens when those worlds could collide? When math becomes are and art becomes math? Let’s take a look at what a blend of both art and math looks like.

Basic math principles, like measurement of lines is something that many artists use when creating pieces, but there are many artists who go beyond using math when they have to and intentionally make math the focal point and/or entire structure of their pieces. Artists like these create pieces that entirely revolve around angles and lines, patterns and perspectives and we love it! Below is more about some of our favorite artists and how their work is intertwined with math.


Bathsheba Grossman

Like Escher, Grossman is another name that is not a household name yet, but she is garnering fans for her art and the process by which she creates. Grossman is a sculpture who uses modern technology to create sculptures. She first uses 3d modeling computer programs to create shapes and digital art. She takes the 3d renderings and uses metal printing technology to print her art and make it come to life in bronze and stainless-steel. Her art often replicates shapes found in science and math and is inspired by molecular biology and astronomy. The result is quite impressively complicated shapes, like infinite twisted double-tetrahedrons. Say what? Look it up here.


M.C. Escher

Escher might not be the first person you think of when you think of famous artists and you may not have ever heard of him, but he is quite famous in the art world for creating mathematically intriguing artwork. He is known for focusing on creating unusual and impossible spaces. Most of what he drew were structures – things like windows, staircases and doors. When you look at the structures individually, they look possible, but when you put his entire piece together, the way each structure feeds into each other is mathematically impossible. One of his most famous pieces is called Relativity. In this drawing, Escher uses patterns, lines and perspective to make realistic descending and ascending staircases. When you back away and look at the whole piece, you realize that none of the stairs are possible. Escher does this by putting shadows in exactly the right places and uses the combination of two and three dimensional drawings to trick your eye and make you think what is impossible mathematically is actually possible. What’s more impressive about Escher and gives you a sense about how mathematical his brain actually was is that he didn’t use any mathematical tools to create his drawings. He freehanded and just used paper and sketching increments. It takes someone very talented to create perfect mathematically correct patterns without tools, like his piece Circle Limit III for instance. Everything measurement is mathematically correct to the millimeter!    


Leonardo Da Vinci

Last but not least, most people have heard of Da Vinci by the time before they’re done with grade school. If it isn’t in school that we hear about him, it’s from the famous fiction novel The Da Vinci Code. He is one of the most famous artists in the world and part of the reason why he’s so famous is because of the math he used in his artwork. He is the most famous artist to use what’s called the golden ratio, which is 1:0.618. This ration is said to be the most pleasing aesthetically for the human eye and can be found in proportions throughout the human body. The subjects of his work are then often people. 

One of Da Vinci’s most famous pieces that is a text book use of the golden ratio is Mona Lisa. Mona Lisa has several golden triangles involved, including around her face, divided through her eyes and from her neck to the top of her hands. Other famous pieces of Da Vinci’s that contain the golden ration are The Last Supper, Old Man and The Vitruvian Man. The Vitruvian Man is where it’s very easy to see the golden ratio because it shows a man with stretched arms and legs with a perfect circle around him. The height of the man in the circle is golden from the top of his head to his navel and also from his navel to his feet. 


Math may not always be totally obvious in art, but it’s there hiding in so many art pieces! Geometry, perspective, measurement, angles and rations all are huge parts of making art something beautiful (or not) that draws our eyes. You might find that the more you understand math, the better appreciate you have for art and vice versa. Try and see if you can spot math in the next art museum you visit!