Beyond Perspective: Mathematics and Visual Art


For many, the experience of doing mathematics is dominated by formulas, order, and following rules. It might come as a surprise that some mathematicians (especially in so-called “pure mathematics”) view what they do as more of an art than a science. For example, Georg Cantor, a leading mathematician of the early modern era, claimed that the “essence of mathematics lies entirely in its freedom.” This course will explore similarities between mathematical and contemporary art practices. We will study a variety of ways that mathematics and art pose questions. We will also investigate the intersection of the two disciplines, including selected applications of mathematics to art-making (from the Renaissance on) and the presence of modern mathematical attitudes in contemporary art (from the historical avant-garde through the present). This course assumes no particular expertise with mathematics, studio art, or art history. Seminar readings, guest speakers, and a program of art viewings will establish a basis for investigating the relevance of fundamental mathematical concepts to contemporary art. These concepts will include axiom, proof, structure, and symmetry, among others. Conference work will involve more in-depth study of individual artists, art works, mathematical ideas, or student work in mathematics and/or art.