Monday, February 6, 2012

Artsy math vs. mathy art, II

Most attempts to connect math and art strike me as superficial at best, mostly spotlighting those aspects of math that already get too much attention under America's new Reform Math: shape sorting, visual patterns, rotations, and symmetry, with a dash of area and perimeter thrown in. Here, for example, is the 5th grade lesson from the 2003 Math in Art festival (thanks to Barry Garelick for alerting me to this), held at a math and technology magnet school in Grand Rapids:

Project--Mondrian Squares:

Students used squares of bright color in certain proportions to create their own geometric abstract compositions.
Math:
Spirals, Fibonacci and the Golden Ratio: Students used a rectangular spiral to find connections to similarity, the Fibonacci Sequence (1, 1, 2, 3, 5, ?) and the Golden Ratio, an abstract mathematical number important to ancient civilizations.
Art:
Piet Mondrian and the Jazz Age: Students experienced swing music, and found the connection to Mondrian's work, especially the piece Broadway Boogie Woogie. They made their pieces thinking about proportion, rhythm and movement.
Especially when it comes to Fibonacci, there are interesting possibilities out there. One is this video (thanks to Nancy Bea Miller for this link) that provides the best explanation I've seen of the connections between the Fibonacci series and natural phenomena (Part 1 of 3):


The Fibonacci Series strikes me as one of the most under-appreciated mysteries of the universe. Why does a series that describes an optimal growth pattern in nature have consecutive members that converge to the Golden Ratio--an idealized (possibly psychologically based) ratio of rectangular length to width in art, architecture, and design? Does this convergence of mathematical elegance, real-world practicality and aesthetics happen in all possible universes, or only, coincidentally, in ours?

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