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(2 minute read)

How many scientists were painters and musicians? Loads! 

Engineers aren’t artistic and other myths

In your head, picture a mathematician. Mentally draw this person and think about their characteristics and features. Once you’ve done that, picture an artist. What are they wearing? What do they look like and how do they come across?

Chances are you’ve pictured two very different people. Perhaps your mathematician is very sensible, straight-laced and lacking in a sense of humour and your artist is a poor, young person who has their head in the clouds and not constrained by the boundaries of a ‘real job’. Run an internet image search for ‘mathematician’ and you find lots of pictures of frowning, white old men. Do the same for ‘artist’ and there are lots of women with wild hair and loose, flowing clothes, or young men with hipster beards and tattoos.

Now, stereotypes are a whole different ball game (and not something we want to get into now!) but the point of this is that often, our ideas of maths and art are on opposite ends of the spectrum where maths is about binary answers that are right or it’s wrong, and art is about personal interpretation and abstract ideas. However, maths and art are actually very closely linked.

When we first think about maths and art, shapes are often one of the first links we make. Geometry is not just about finding the length of one side of a triangle: there is also Euclidean geometry (the study of plane and solid figures), affine geometry (the study of lines and points without angles and distances), spherical geometry, elliptic geometry and many others.

We know that accuracy is a vital part of maths, but painting also requires logic and careful consideration.

The golden ratio is perhaps one of the most famous examples of the relationship between art and maths. The golden ratio was first identified in Roman times, when architects, builders and painters were interested in working out the difference between a carefully constructed piece of work and a chaotic and less precise creation. The golden ratio is key to recognising the difference between these, and is used to create a sequence which can be repeated within a piece of work.

There are many different elements to the golden ratio, and these are often used in the most famous paintings to ensure that the viewer finds the artwork aesthetically pleasing.

To create your own mathematically perfect masterpiece, draw a rectangle where the long side is 1.618 times longer than the short side, then draw a line inside your rectangle to divide it into a perfect square and a rectangle. This new rectangle will have the same ratio as the main rectangle. You can keep repeating this in different sections, but you can also use these squares and rectangles to draw a golden spiral, a shape which is also frequently seen in nature.