In this class so far we’ve been conflating the terms art and design. As an artist I see a huge difference between art and design—they deal with aesthetics and function in very different ways—but our lumping them together for the purposes of class discussion doesn’t offend me. When I’m thinking about the role that mathematics plays in art and design however, I think we should make the distinction.

Math plays an obvious role in design—for an object to function in the physical world, it must cooperate with laws of nature. Designers must juggle with one hand their efforts to make beautiful things and, with the other hand, the very real physical constraints of materials and gravity. There are specific rules to making functional objects on planet Earth. Thus designers must deliberately acquaint themselves with the rules of the game—they must get cozy in mathematical fabric of our physical circumstances.

Artists however aren’t usually making functional objects. For this reason, an artist could easily get away with a less than refined appreciation for math and the physical laws governing our universe—hence Surrealism employed non-Euclidean geometry and the fourth dimension in their “militant” attack on logic…using math to attack math…

So an artist’s relationship to math takes curious forms and admittedly an artist’s mastery of math often proves embarrassingly superficial. Little do many of us know—or want to admit—how utterly determined our motions are—by math (the basis for the painters are stupid stereotype).

So designers use math in obvious ways, but what happens when an artist chooses to acknowledge math, to take interest in it, to address it in her work? Once she knows that the golden ratio may shape her aesthetic choices and her audience’s tastes for example, should she use that ratio to her benefit, should she reject it—should an artist employ math in a more than accidental way?

One could argue that while the sciences locate meaning, the arts construct meaning. When a painter sets out to construct meaning, she makes a series of choices: where to place the color on the canvas, next to which color, what shape, size, thickness, temperature should she make that mark—does she make it hot, cold, thin, thick, green, red, fast, slow, high or low? Ultimately she has to make these decisions, and for a reason. Where a designer makes decisions based on the logic imposed on her by an object and it’s desired function, a painter constructs a two dimensional reality with its own internal logic—as a painter, I want this logic to mean something.

When I paint in order to construct meaning, I want to have good reasons for every decision I make. Math sometimes gives me those reasons. I use math in order to emancipate my picture from the inevitably generic fate it arrives at through merely intuitive decision-making, to ground it in an order outside of my subjectivity, which is likely quite similar to that of other human beings. My experiences, expectations, intuitions, hopes, fears, assumptions are likely not all that different from yours so if I want to surprise you or move you in a new way—I have to employ logic that transcends this subjectivity. I use math to make novel images, to introduce chaos where my intuition might otherwise fight to control it.

Each of the artists linked on the webpage have different logical structures that they work within, they each have unique reasons for producing objects or experiences the way they do, and subsequently math plays a unique role for each artist. Musicians work within an obviously mathematical system because, as Tony Smith says “music has a mathematical structure.” (http://www.valdostamuseum.org/hamsmith/musPhys.html) Around 2500 years ago, Pythagoras discovered that:

(The Shape of Music, Dmitri Tymoczko http://seedmagazine.com/news/2008/07/the_shape_of_music.php)

For painters, the logic isn’t so obvious. Here, I’ll show you how math shapes my work:

When left to my own evolved creative devices, (link:http://www.seedmagazine.com/news/2009/01/painting_and_the_pleistocene_1.php)

I produce an image like…

(Here’s a scene that’s not all that unexpected)

Using some external logic, this image becomes…

Which eventually becomes…

In another example: With a system, something like…

Becomes….

Which eventually becomes…

I use math to discover places that I would never arrive at using intuition alone.

-Stephany Howard