The Relationship Between Art and Math

Did you know that April is Mathematics and Statistics Awareness Month?

The Joint Policy Board for Mathematics (JPBM) celebrates Mathematics and Statistics Awareness Month every April in order to increase an understanding of and appreciation for math. Mathematics and Statistics Awareness month always has a theme. In the past, it has even explored the relationship between math and art.

As one might expect, there is a surprisingly rich association between mathematics and many of the arts like music, dance, painting, architecture, and sculpture. Galileo further clarifies with his statement, “The universe is written in the language of mathematics, and its characters are triangles, circles, and other geometric figures.” This means that mathematics is especially important to artists, who often have an innate understanding of it. They continue to blend their understanding of mathematics with their artistic endeavors.

Art’s Connection to Mathematics

One of the strongest connections between art and math is the way that humans throughout history have used mathematical reasoning to construct lasting masterpieces. This speaks specifically to the effect of the exactness of math on the impression of artistic beauty.

Golden Ratio

For example, the perfect combination of math and art can be shown if you consider the golden ratio. The golden ratio has fascinated intellectuals of diverse interests for at least 2,400 years. Luca Pacioli, an Italian mathematician, wrote extensively about it in his De Divina Proportione in 1509. However, the Greeks attributed the initial discovery of the golden ratio to Phidias. The Greek symbol for the golden ratio is named Phi because of Phidias. Aristotle made note of the golden ratio’s creative properties in the 4th century BC, and Euclid developed the concept further a hundred years later. 

The ancient Greek mathematicians studied the golden ratio because of its frequent appearance in geometry and unique properties. The golden ratio contains many geometric shapes: the golden rectangle, the golden triangle, and Kepler’s triangle. Many artists and architects have tried to make their works close to the golden ratio. This is because they believe the proportion to be aesthetically pleasing. 

More Than a Ratio

There are several examples of cultures and artists who have used math for this very reason. The frequency of this special number in art and architecture is perhaps evidence of an instinctive partiality for the golden ratio. Several works of ancient art have incorporated the golden ratio in their designs. Egyptian, Sumerian, Greek, and Chinese architecture all use the golden ratio.

The Renaissance saw a rebirth of Greek and Roman culture and ideas. For example, the study of mathematics as an important subject needed to understand the arts. Renaissance artists used mathematics to figure out how to show three dimensional scenes on a flat canvas. Geometry can explain the true essence of the universe, especially art.

Leonardo Da Vinci is a typical Renaissance man. As a scientist, mathematician, inventor, painter, sculptor, and architect, Da Vinci proved one of the greatest minds of human history. Even he could not ignore the allure of the golden ratio. It is even believed that Da Vinci used the golden ratio in several of his works including “The Last Supper.” Other artists whose works were inspired by the golden ratio include Polykleitos, Michelangelo, Raphael, Rembrandt, Georges Seurat, Salvador Dali, Albrecht Dürer, and M.C. Escher (among many others). 

You can find the golden ration in almost every part of your daily life. The shapes of postcards, playing cards, posters, wide-screen televisions, photographs, and light switch plates all seem to fit its magical proportions. Luca Pacioli sums up the relationship between math and art by stating, “Without mathematics there is no art.”

Author: Amanda Ahlstrom, Franchise Manager at A Grade Ahead

Revised by: Nicole Acevedo, Program Manager at A Grade Ahead

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