During my sabbatical last spring, I spent a lot of time exploring, appreciating and contributing to the world of “mathematical art.” Among other things, I created looped animations, designed 3D-printed jewelry and other more abstract forms, and produced carefully-distorted sheets of lined paper. I was also able to interact with a vibrant, global #mathart community on Twitter. I saw so many people—mathematicians, math educators, and artists from around the world—doing incredible work, and I realized that this was a side of mathematics that our students rarely get to see. Mathematics is often perceived as merely a means to an end—a tool for scientists, economists and others to use in order to solve important problems. While it is certainly that, what often gets lost is that it is possible for one to experience joy and beauty in mathematics. Oswald Veblen called mathematics “one of the essential emanations of the human spirit—a thing to be valued in and for itself, like art or poetry.” Few students—or adults, for that matter!—view mathematics in this way, and this was something I wanted to try to address upon my return to the classroom.
At Dana Hall we are fortunate to have an Art Gallery, which typically features six or seven shows throughout the school year. In March I contacted Visual Arts Department Head Michael Frassinelli about the possibility of having a show that featured the work of women who blur the lines between art and mathematics. He enthusiastically reserved a spot on the calendar for what became the “Women Making With Mathematics” exhibit (open now, and closing January 8). I put out a call for participants on Twitter, and in the end we wound up with work from 15 women, hailing from as far away as the UK and Malaysia.
The show features origami, crochet, Islamic geometry, puzzles, animations, a quilt, Chinese thread books, and more. Sharing these pieces, and their connections to mathematics, with students has been wonderful; it’s clear that their concept of what mathematics is, and what it’s for, is undergoing some upheaval!
Even after the show closes, I will continue to look for ways to show my students the beautiful side of math, and have them become “Women Making With Math” themselves. I hope to share those efforts here in the future. As they say: “Watch this space!”