Order in the Universe: Geometric Concepts in Art and Math

By Walkup, Nancy | School Arts, September 2001 | Go to article overview

Order in the Universe: Geometric Concepts in Art and Math


Walkup, Nancy, School Arts


Do you think mathematics can be found in art? You may not realize it, but if you teach the elements of art and the principles of design, you also teach math, especially geometry. Both disciplines involve drawing, the use of two- and three-dimensional shapes and forms, an understanding of spatial concepts, measurement, estimation, and pattern and provide a basis for order and structure. Concepts of line, shape, form, pattern, symmetry, perspective, scale, and proportion form the building blocks of art and parallel similar foundations in mathematics. Many such correlated concepts find expression through an artist's or student's use of them in the composition of an artwork.

Where Do I Start?

Do you think it even could be possible to learn about geometry without looking at any pictures or images, making any drawings, or handling any physical geometric forms? There are particular mathematical concepts that may best be learned through experiences in art. However, connections between art and math should always be natural, logical, and meaningful, never forced or trivialized. For instance, counting the number of objects in an artwork is definitely not a significant art or math activity.

Artworks are best served through investigations of the math concepts which artists have deliberately chosen to explore in their work. Question artists' choices of mathematical concepts and their use of them as elements and principles of design in their compositions. Consider what meanings the artists intended through their choices. Reflect on how math concepts provide structure and order in works of art. Such solid foundations can guide you in choosing artworks and concepts for your students to investigate.

Take Your Pick

To gain an understanding of the shared concepts between art and math, students need to investigate, experiment with, and explore the world of geometry through discussion and hands-on activities. For example, transforming two-dimensional shapes into three-dimensional forms promotes the development of spatial sense.

Alternately, students can create complex patterns based on geometric shapes and forms, explore mirror, radial, and cylindrical symmetry; practice measurement using rulers, straight edges, protractors, and compasses; create tessellating patterns or mosaics with congruent shapes, and execute perspective drawings. Other concepts to explore include scale and proportion, geodesics, and optical illusions. Just take your pick!

Becoming Bilingual in Art and Math

It is beneficial for both the art and classroom teacher to learn and use the appropriate vocabulary for both subjects with their students. It is confusing for students to hear two different terms for the same concepts. For example, in math, a figure is called a geometric element. In art, two-dimensional figures are called shapes and three-dimensional figures are called forms. In math, two-dimensional figures are known as plane figures, while three-dimensional figures are known as solid or space figures. Why would it be helpful for your students to understand both sets of terms? Do you think concepts will be more meaningful and learning will better transfer if students use and understand the vocabulary for both art and math? Enlist the aid of a math teacher to help both you and your students become more proficient in the use of appropriate vocabulary. Hopefully the math teacher will use the art terms, too!

Search for Mathematical Artists

Can you think of any artists who pioneered the use of mathematics in their work? Artists from different times and cultures have been fascinated by mathematical concepts and have used them to create unique works of art. …

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