ART AND MATH MERGING - 17 March 2016
Ridge at Sunrise - Bryce Canyon National Park, Utah
Full sized image is located here: http://www.tom-hill.biz/Galleries/Scenics/Utah/i-7XPV9VP/A
Happy Saint Patrick's Day.
Funny enough to pick this day to post my first blog post of the year. If it weren't Saint Patrick's Day there wouldn't be much to talk about except this also happens to be a friend's birthday. That's only notable to you-all because a recent discussion with them made me pontificate about how there's a connection between high order art like oil painting and high end mathematics. The connections is creativity and process. Most of us will say there's no connection between the hard sciences and artistic endeavors. But, there is. There are many similarities at the higher end of these activities. The difference is only the medium of how these activities are expressed. That's what we're going to explore and it's what I'm going to write about on my first blog post of the year.
For most of us, it's really easy to connect artistry with painting. Unfortunately, for most of us, math doesn't have the same connection. In fact, we commonly attribute math using an entirely different hemisphere of the brain than what might be used by a painter. The idea here is the left side of the brain has been associated with memory look-up as in when you're trying to remember something the left side of the brain is more likely to be active. Conversely, the creatives out there are supposedly using their right side's which is commonly attributed to artistic efforts. Actually, we're much more complicated than this simple left/right model if you really delve into the research. Even math is known to activate both sides of your brain. While I couldn't find any similar technical references on art, I wouldn't be surprised to find painting uses both sides of your brain as well.
Why is this important? It's important because I find so many people thinking math or technical endeavors are out of their reach because somehow they're wired incorrectly. In other words, because I"m good at art, I can't be so good at math. The same goes when looking the other way. My view? I say bull-hokey. I say that because when you really understand what it takes to do great art or great math, you'll find there are more similarities than differences.
My view--great art is the innate ability to recognize patterns not easily seen and to articulate those patterns in a skillful manner that can be recognized by others. This definition becomes apparent when you're looking at a particularly beautiful art-work that sings to you and brings up an emotional response.
The most common example I have of this is when I hear a particularly impressive rendition of Beethoven's 9th symphony, Ode to Joy, the last movement. The buildup by the orchestra. The coral inputs. The ever crescendo music to the finale. I personally believe this single piece of work is phenomenal and a great example of artistry at the genius level.
Is there the equivalent in the mathematics world? You bet. We're surrounded by math artistry all the time.
The most base level is simply the existence of numbers--i.e. 1, 2, 3... Can you imagine when our ancestors were first able to count things? The excitement of understanding the quantity of things with the invention of an abstraction called a "number"? They could count how many apples they had--one apple, two apples, and so on. Then, to discover they could combine several sets of apples together and define them with these new fangled things called numbers--two apples with two more apples becomes four apples (ye ha!!). You might be thinking this number thing is so elementary how could it be so exciting. But it is. Watch your kids when they combine blocks and things together. They're discovering numbers and it makes them happy.
Add onto the complexity of math; adding, subtracting, multiplication, division, and more. Recognizing the patterns and their associations is creativity at work. But, if you simply introduce these concepts as rote procedure, the creative part gets lost. It gets lost in the same way we look at a painting that was made using Paint by Numbers. There isn't a lot of creativity or artistry when everything is done for you and all you do is follow the instructions and memorize the colors and their associated numbers. If you learn math simply by remembering procedure, you're not feeling very artistic.
These math examples are simple and don't seem very impressive in today's advanced society. But, you have to start somewhere. Seemingly unimpressive, these example promote a perspective that's applicable at the most advanced levels in the math and art worlds.
Here's a word of caution for artist and tech geeks. If you don't see the connection between these endeavors, there's a limit to what you can understand about your own endeavor. Musicians who don't understand there's a lot of math and physics involved with their artwork will reach a limit in their abilities to see complex patterns that only come with creativity of merging many advanced concepts together. Those mathematicians who don't see the creative aspect to finding solutions will never find aesthetically beautiful solutions to complex math challenges.
I personally love working where art and math merge. It's a unique space only because few seem to really recognize the connection. I find this uniqueness compelling for some reason. I am equally impressed with beautiful solutions to complex technical issues as I am hearing an especially superb version of familiar symphony. I think the enjoyment for either endeavor comes from the same place.
So, the next time you say you can't do art because you aren't creative enough. Or, you can't do math because you're supposedly math illiterate. Think for a moment they're similar challenges just on different sides of the same card. If you do this you might see solutions you hadn't thought of before that will take you forward.
Happy Saint Patties Day!