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A Vision for a Shen Gallery Exhibit on Math & Art

Brendan Kinnell, Sam Shah, Liz Titone

By employing mathematical ideas -- from simple algorithms to abstract ideas -- important innovations arose in
the world of art. Whether it be through the use of geometry to incorporate perspective during the Renaissance,
the disruptive architecture of Frank Gehry, or the analysis of geometrical forms and structures that undergird
the works of Piet Mondrian, mathematics has been a tool that artists have drawn upon to inform their work.
Recently, there has been a growing community of artists who see math as more than a tool to be used in the
service of art, but rather math as platform where one can create and understand art. Central to much of this
work is the notion that in structure, there is beauty. Observe how filling a planar surface with regular polygons
results in hundreds of possible patterns despite the use of only a small number of different tiles. See how a
simple set of rules can yield psychedelic fractal images.

Mathematics can be enlisted to create stunning works. When confronted with these pieces, viewers naturally
wonder how did this piece come into being? while also giving the viewer a chance to be affected by the piece
itself. In other words, the visual structures that emerge from mathematics can be simultaneously analytically
satisfying and aesthetically arresting. And it is precisely here -- at this intersection of analytic thinking and
aesthetic pleasure -- where we see the show being situated. As we said: in structure, there is beauty.

There are too many students who see the practice of mathematics as applying set procedures. For them,
mathematics has no beauty, creativity, or personality. It has no emotional component. It is a black-and-white:
either youre right or youre wrong. It is a discipline used by others to approximate the physical world--but on its
own, it is esoteric and uninteresting. As math teachers, we want to combat all these misconceptions about
mathematics. For us, math isnt black and white, but vibrant and nuanced. We feel mathematics: we
experience the elation of discovery and see how creativity has a huge role in problem solving. We see
mathematics: we peer deep into the structures that undergird mathematical reality and declare them beautiful.
We become personally intertwined in mathematics: curiosity pulls us in.

With this interdisciplinary exhibit, we will be able to create a learning environment to bridge that gap, and help
students of all ages see that creative work and analytic work are not mutually exclusive. Indeed they often are
one and the same. We hope to show students with a love of the arts that mathematics can be one way to
inform their own artistic expressions, while we hope to show students with a love of mathematics that the work
they are doing can have an aesthetic component if they are willing to look for it and shape it. But we want
visitors to be more than observers who glean bits and pieces from individual pieces they witness. In our eyes,
the gallery will serve as an opening salvo for students to using their own individual creativity to create their own
mathematical art. Our vision includes encouraging teachers (with support from Liz Titone, Brendan Kinnell, and
Sam Shah) to generate authentic learning experiences in their classrooms that involve the creation of
mathematical art. (By exposing students to professional math-based art, we think students will be primed to
see their creations are as real art rather than simply an assignment for class.)