When Art meets Maths

The Summer Edition of Santa Fe Trend carries an article named "Creative Trinity," which explores the boundaries between art and science. As the author writes, "Art and science share a fundamental characteristic that binds them inseparably: Both are, at heart, nothing more than a search for truth." Look more for selected artworks...

I recently read the latest issue of Santa Fe Trend, an artsy magazine about architecture, interior design, art and more. If you find the paper version of this Summer issue, you'll read an article named "Creative Trinity," which explores the boundaries between art, science -- including mathematics -- and spirit. As the author writes, "Art and science share a fundamental characteristic that binds them inseparably: Both are, at heart, nothing more than a search for truth." Read more for selected excepts and great artworks...

The Summer Edition of Santa Fe Trend, which is published three times per year, is not available online yet. But the Editor, Nancy Zimmerman, was kind enough to send me an electronic copy of her article and to allow me to publish selected excerpts. Here is the introduction.

It would seem, on the surface at least, that art and science have little in common. The first deals with unquantifiable, subjective concepts like beauty and emotion; the latter is absorbed by observable, measurable phenomena. But while they may appear to be opposites, art and science share a fundamental characteristic that binds them inseparably: Both are, at heart, nothing more than a search for truth. The avenues of approach to this truth are necessarily different, of course, but each seeks to express the verities and intangibles of life on this planet and beyond. Whether via a mathematical formula or a painting of exquisite beauty, reality is explored and explained by practitioners who pair empirical observation with imagination to achieve a synthesis that resonates as true.

Then, Zimmerman explains why this opposition between art and science didn't always exist and focuses on their current fusion in the Santa Fe area, known both for its artists and the Los Alamos National Laboratory among other research institutions.

In particular, she looks at how some artists are mixing mathematics and software with traditional forms of art. Here is an example of such an artist.

Jean Constant is a Los Alamos–based artist who works with mathematicians to beta-test software by rendering their formulas as artistic representations. Using a sophisticated computer program, he applies imagination to the computations in such a way as to demonstrate their physical manifestations and, in the process, highlight any errors in logic.

Here is a first example of what Constant does, an "Interpolation polynomial for a given set of data points in the Newton form" simply named "Chirico" (Credit: Jean Constant).

Jean Constant: Chirico

He also creates artwork on his own -- in oils, acrylics, digital media -- that’s inspired by and adheres to the principles of these formulas. "My work is a poetic visualization of mathematical algorithms," the artist says. A mathematician’s aim is to understand and define the world as it is. As an artist, I use the tools of mathematics to create new perspectives."

Here is another example of Constant's creations, "Tiling#4," a variation on the principle of symmetry (Credit: Jean Constant).

Jean Constant: Tiling#4

Constant is involved with a number of organizations that promote interaction and collaboration between artists and scientists, and he believes that bringing these groups together is an important next step in our social evolution. "Society has tried to push artists into a corner," he says. “The 'crazy artist' is a convenient image, but it’s never really been accurate. These days, science is bringing art back to where it belongs, a partner in the act of discovery of the world around us. Today the computer is as powerful a technology as advances in painting were in the Middle Ages.

Of course, Zimmerman looks at other artists and at the confluence of other forms of art and science, such as architecture. But she's obviously addicted to maths, as shows this last quote.

Also from nature comes the more recently defined fractal, a geometric shape that has symmetry of scale, such that if you were to zoom in on any part of it at various levels of magnification, it would still look the same, or nearly the same. We find this property in the branches of a tree, rugged coastlines, and planets that orbit stars that, in turn, orbit galaxies -- the part is the whole, and the whole is the part.

Here is an example of an application of fractals to arts, "Le Pont des Soupirs" (Credit: Jean Constant).

Jean Constant: Le Pont des Soupirs

[Disclaimer: I don't have any relationship with Santa Fe Trend, but Jean Constant is a long time friend. You can find more of his works in his Art Portfolio. And you can even buy some of his paintings or photographs. Even if I don't get a cent on it, I'm sure Jean will buy me a drink the next time he comes to Paris.]

Sources: Nancy Zimmerman, Santa Fe Trend, Summer 2006; and Jean Constant web site

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