by Rhett Nettles, S2TEM Centers SC

When thinking about art, most folks probably don’t think about mathematics. If they do, it might be limited to the golden ratio, MC Escher, or fractal art — but the connection goes much deeper. Consider, for example, visual realistic art where the artist is attempting to pull the viewer into a three-dimensional space created on a two-dimensional canvas. Straight lines, point of view, angle of light and perception, geometric solids, parallel cubes, the vanishing and vantage points are all mathematical terms that are used in an artist’s repertoire.

Although both art and math teachers have content standards that address practices and knowledge for each discipline, it is the art teacher more often than not, who is making the intentional connection to mathematics. Specific content strands of mathematics found in the visual arts are geometry and measurement. In addition, artistic practice enhances the mathematical practices, particularly, the ability to reason abstractly, attend to precision, and look for and make use of structure.

There is such a strong link between art and math that an annual exhibit and , the Bridges Conference and Joint Mathematics Meetings,  has been created to celebrate the designs and art created by both mathematicians and artists. Check out some of the submissions from the 2013 exhibition, Mathematical Art Galleries. You’ll see submissions from around the globe where art and math have been fused together in an exhibit. My favorite is the trivalent honeycomb:

Trivalent Honeycomb

Trivalent Honeycomb

Trivalent Honeycomb

20 x 20 x 20 cm

Nylon, SLS 3D Print


Raymond Aschheim, Hyper-sculptor Polytopics

Issy les Moulineaux, near Paris, FRANCE

Add Art, Make Math Fun

Some creative teachers are using art as a way to make the STEM disciplines more relatable and less intimidating. For example,  Annalisa Crannell, a math professor at Franklin and Marshall College, developed a course to teach math through art as a way to make math fun to learn.

Surprisingly, she discovered that her students were more afraid of art than they were of math. As a result,  she developed a lecture series, “The Good, The Bad, and The Pretty”, on the Mathematical Association of America’s website focusing on the math as it relates to art. Discussing specifically how math is used to create realistic art, she takes the audience on a tour of Renaissance art as well as sharing some techniques used in modern art and is explicit in showing how important it is for the artist to consider how the art will be viewed.  At the end of the series, she presents an artistic puzzle to solve. You can take a stab at solving it, by visiting the page above.

See For Yourself

If you are interested in learning more about math and art locally, check out Redux Contemporary Art Center, located at 136 St Philip Street, a supporter of the Charleston STEM Festival who will be hosting the “What is STEM?” art competition exhibit. Several Redux studio artists demonstrate how STEM and art intersect. Alizey Khan’s explores the visual properties of light, color and depth in outer space in her paintings and prints. Trevor Webster’s art is process-oriented, focused on  blending chemistry into the math and art matrix.

Next time you visit Redux, or other local art galleries, note the ways that STEM and art combine with beautiful results. And if you’re inspired to creatively express your thoughts on STEM, participate in the What is STEM art competition.

We hope you enjoy the festival!

Rhett Nettles

Read More

Mathematical Art Galleries site:

Mathematical Association of America’s website lecture series “The Good, The Bad and The Pretty”:

Artist Trever Webster:

Redux Studios: