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Math and Art: Not Such an Odd Couple

Some academic subjects have natural connections to each other. For example, teachers of language arts and social studies can easily find ways to integrate historical literature, writing and research. Scientific experiments often require a range of math skills. But the relationship between math and art, while not as immediately obvious, can help teachers show their students new ways of using math and art by showing how they relate to and support each other.

Math Central,
features an article on the relationship between math and art, and provides a good place to begin.


MathCentral’s page provides background ideas.

The site provides background about the connections between the two subjects, as well as information about two artists who relied heavily on mathematical ideas when creating art. Both Leonardo da Vinci and M.C. Escher relied on numbers and sophisticated calculations when creating their masterpieces.

Teachers who wish to explore more of M.C. Escher’s work can check out Tessellations.org. According to the artist, a tessellation is “a regular division of the plane.” The website’s creators have expanded on that definition, showing tessellations as a series of repetitive interlocking shapes.

A design created from interlocking cats.

While the site’s emphasis is on art with little explicit math instruction, the material still provides a novel way to introduce geometry through polygons that tessellate. There is a great deal of content, including information about M.C. Escher and galleries of his work. In addition to basic geometry, teachers will find ideas for using tessellations to teach students about symmetry. Tessellations can be created through a variety of approaches, which are detailed on the site.
This is one approach to creating tessellations.

Teachers who wish to develop additional lessons around Leonardo da Vinci and his work in both math and art can check out ThinkQuest.org’s,
resources. Like MathCentral’s da Vinci page, it includes the mathematical significance of the Mona Lisa, and goes into further detail about The Vetruvian Man, an illustrated study of human proportion.

The Vetruvian Man shows the connection between math and art .

Crayola.com, offers a wide variety of lessons connecting art and math. The current selection of projects is primarily aimed at students in grades 1 through 6. All the projects allow students to develop their mastery of mathematical concepts through art.

For example, the Geometric Quilt Blocks lesson incorporates art and math with a dash of history and literature. Creating quilts requires students to show understanding of symmetry, measurement and geometry.

Quilting connects math, art and history.

The Network of Neighbors activity is somewhat more sophisticated, requiring students to create maps and develop a record-keeping system.

Network of Neighbors encourages students to create colorful maps.

MathCraft, geared toward older students, describes itself as a “universe of mathematically inspired art and architecture.” New projects and math/art inspired ideas are added regularly.

MathCraft has projects for older students.

One example from the site, Modular Origami, provides a challenging hands-on project. Students can follow a clear set of directions showing how to create 3-D models by applying their knowledge of mathematical principles.

Modular Origami is a challenging project integrating math and art.

The above are just a sampling of the resources teachers can use to create engaging lessons. Math and art support each other more than is readily apparent, but doing so can provide teachers with unlimited ideas for supporting their students as they learn.

Written August 2, 2013 by Stacy Zeiger

Art , Mathematics

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