Beauty in Math

Picturing Math: Selections from the Department of Drawings and Prints

Beauty in Math

Picturing Math – Art and Math

Math is just numbers and nothing else? Well, there is more to math than numbers and symbols. There is something more abstract – beauty itself. The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York had acquired, in 2015, a series of prints of equations drawn by ten prominent mathematicians and scientists. These ten prints of mathematical expressions is known as the Concinnitas portfolio, and they form the core of Picturing Math: Selections from the Department of Drawings and Prints, currently on view in the Met’s Robert Wood Johnson, Jr. Gallery.

Picturing Math: Selections from the Department of Drawings and Prints

The artistically written mathematical equations on display

Picturing Math: Selections from the Department of Drawings and Prints

Some drawings, such as this perspectival study by Flötner, depict physical models set into landscapes in order to emphasize their graphic three-dimensionality and as a means of displaying the maker’s skill at visualizing an object from multiple angles within a single image.

Picturing Math: Selections from the Department of Drawings and Prints

Georges Reverdy’s 16th-century etching “The Architect”. Geometry is portrayed as a woman creating a five-pointed star in a circle, while classical ruins stand behind her, all symbolic of math’s role in the process of architectural creation.

Picturing Math: Selections from the Department of Drawings and Prints

While to the layperson the mathematical content may remain enigmatic or require further research, the prints persist on their own as powerful visual signs communicating the gesture and intentions of their creators.

Beauty in art and science

“As each print reflects a different formula written in a different hand by a different author, there are great variations in color, tone, script, and amount of detail present in each work. Together, the prints show not only the diversity of ideas proposed by some of the leading scientific minds, but, in a larger sense, challenge the very notion of ‘beauty’ and divisions between art and science,” said Jennifer Farrell, associate curator of drawings and prints at the Met. In the older art pieces, math is allegorical rather than formulaic, its systems broadly used to convey the order and balance of the world.

This exhibition also includes several modern and contemporary pieces showing how artists have more recently experimented with mathematics. Dorothea Rockburne uses “the golden mean”, a mathematical concept used since ancient times for the ideal balance of beauty.

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