By Madhavi Pothukuchi

28 June, 2022

It’s a common assumption that if someone is good at maths or science, they may not be very gifted in arts and vice versa because numbers and art are considered poles apart. But in reality, artists have been using numbers and mathematical theories as the inspiration for their art forever. Curious? Let’s take a look at some examples of maths and art combinations.

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Geometry is the obvious part of maths that relates to art, thanks to its visual nature. Artists have used geometric patterns and shapes in their artwork since the Renaissance. Geometric patterns became an important aspect of the abstract art movement and the cubist movement. The concepts of symmetry and lines greatly influenced paintings or sculptures of Optical Art illusions.

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Also known as the Divine Proportion, this principle, founded by Euclid, talks about the ‘ideal’ proportions for beauty. It is a real irrational constant (1 + √5)/2, or 1.618. It is the ratio you get when the ratio of two numbers is the same as the ratio of their sum to the larger of the two numbers. The ratio is found in many famous works of art like the Mona Lisa, the Vitruvian Man and the Notre Dame Cathedral.

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Symmetry is a fundamental geometric concept found in art, most apparent in Islamic design and architecture. Several buildings built in the Islamic style of architecture have intricate and symmetrical designs that follow the principle of mirroring. Including geometric shapes such as triangles, parallelograms, and stars in their designs help emphasise the mirror effect.

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Perspective is a basic yet chief concept in art and maths. It is a technique that changes the distance of an object on paper by providing a 3D effect to a painting and depth by using angled lines to indicate vertical and horizontal lines. Italian artists Filippo Brunelleschi and Masaccio were among the first to use perspective with the help of algebra to calculate the angles.

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Cubism was an art movement that started in the early 20th century. It took everyday subjects, broke them into many different shapes and repainted them from different angles. Famous cubist artists like Pablo Picasso and Jean Metzinger were influenced by maths and would read mathematical books and theories. Cubist paintings are composed of little cubes and feature 3D geometric shapes to represent modern life.

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Also known as ‘Op Art’, artworks of optical illusions are an important part of the maths and art story. It gives the human eye the ability to deceive the brain into believing something that isn't there. This art style uses the mathematical principles of perspective and geometry to create abstract artworks.

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Maths still inspires artists today. Many modern-day mathematicians and artists work together to make art using maths. The largest maths assembly in the world, the Joint Mathematics Meeting, often sees artists participate with their artworks that are either inspired by or actually show a mathematical concept.

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