Sunday, June 26, 2016

Math + Art = Progress

I previously talked about one of my favorite authors being Lewis Carroll, who wrote about concepts like imaginary numbers and induction in his Alice in Wonderland books. I was much delighted to read FlatLand by Edwin Abbott. Like Carroll, Abbott used mathematical concepts (in Abbott’s case, multi-dimensional geometry) to make a commentary on social classes in the Victorian era. To me, this is one of the most important uses of any artistic tool.

As Henderson explains in her essay “The Fourth Dimension and Non-Euclidean Geometry in Modern Art: Conclusion,” the development of higher-dimensional geometry inspired many artists in abstract fields. One such artist is Theo van Doesburg who portrayed the fourth dimension in many of his paintings through the limited capabilities of a two-dimensional canvas. It is inspiring that artists like him are not limited by their own imagination and can interpret high-level mathematical thinking and rework it into their own set of skills and social concepts.

“Card Players,” oil painting by Theo van Doesburg, 1917

Besides art being a reflection of some mathematical concepts, art can also use math to reflect other messages. Robert Lang is a 3D origami artist who uses geometry to create animals out of paper. His detailed portrayal of natural and wildlife is a beautiful use of traditional origami.

"Vertical Pond II", 60 uncut squares of custom-made Origamido paper, 2014, by Robert Lang

It seems that mathematics is a huge part of developing realistic and complex art. Historically, they have had a complimentary relationship. So why are the arts and mathematics juxtaposed so often?

A traditional African blanket with fractal patterns

Perhaps it comes from our current education system, which pits these two disciplines against each other and. Nonetheless, art would not be where it is today without mathematical innovation, and perhaps math would not be where it is today without the innovative minds of a stereotypical “artist.” It was, after all, the dual-ly talented minds of such artists/mathematicians as Leonardo da Vinci that made huge leaps in both fields.

Abbott, Edwin. “Flatland: A Romance of Many Dimensions.” N.p., n.d. Web. 12 Oct. 2012. <>.

"African Fractals." African Fractals. N.p., n.d. Web. 26 June 2016. <>

The Editors of Encyclop√¶dia Britannica. "Theo Van Doesburg." Encyclopedia Britannica Online. Encyclopedia Britannica, n.d. Web. 26 June 2016. <>

Henderson, Linda. “The Fourth Dimension and Non-Euclidean Geometry in Modern Art: Conclusion.” MIT Press. 17.3 (1984): 205-10. Print.

Lang, Robert J. "Artwork: Vertical Pond II." Robert J. Lang Oragami. N.p., 2014. Web. 26 June 2016. <>

Stuck in the Middle of Two Cultures

It is often that I find myself torn between the two cultures C.P. Snow described in his essay “The Two Cultures and the Scientific Revolutions. He theorizes that a communication gap separates the literary intellectuals and natural scientists of the world. The UCLA campus is a manifest of this divide:
UCLA Campus map: The southern part of campus is devoted to STEM departments; the northern part to humanities/arts/social sciences

As a math major, I find myself stuck in the modern atmosphere of the math/sciences buildings. I hardly venture into north campus, where UCLA’s oldest, more traditional buildings are home to the humanities, arts, and social sciences. But despite my studies being largely dedicated to the logic and technical components of math, I still entertain my literary hobbies. I have been an avid reader and writer since I was a child, and when I have any free time, my first choice is to delve myself into another novel or draft another short story.

I agree it is a very important role artists have to bridge the communication gap between the two cultures. One of my favorite authors, Lewis Carroll, is such an artist, whose novels and poems interpreted modern mathematical concepts in a satirical way as a commentary on the growing complexity.  His works inspire me to maintain both a strong mathematical education and an active literary one.
Lewis Carroll, author of Alice's Adventures in Wonderland

I see technology as an inherent bridge-builder. The construction of most technology is a heavily involved science, but their output can largely be an artist’s tool. Examples include using Photoshop to create artistic images, auto-tune to produce new songs, or even zero-gravity to create dance routines. And these artistic works can convey or create meaningful messages in the humanities and social sciences. In a reverse direction, artists can inspire scientific research with their portrayal of literary intellectual ideas.

Piece by Michael Chang to explore artificial evolution using computer code 

As Vesna asserts in her essay “Toward a Third Culture: Being in Between,” the important thing is that artists respect both cultures’ languages and methodologies so that they remain credible conduits of communication. This is how the two cultures can progress in a parallel and peaceful way.

Chang, Michael. Butterfly. Digital image. Morphology. UCLA, n.d. Web. 26 June 2016. <>.
"Lewis Carroll." Lewis Carroll Society of North America. Digital image. N.p., n.d. Web. 26 June 2016. <>.
Snow, C. P. The Two Cultures and the Scientific Revolution. New York: Cambridge UP, 1959. Print.
"UCLA Campus Map." Digital image. UCLA, n.d. Web. 26 June 2016. 
Vesna, Victoria. "Toward a Third Culture: Being In Between." Leonardo. 34 (2001): 121-125. Print.