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Correlations Between Math and Art

Reflections from a DreamBox Summer Intern - Part 2

When it comes to art and math, there’s a major misconception that surrounds these two seemingly vastly different subjects:

  1. Your skill comes from innate talent, and
  2. You must pick between the two

For a long time, I thought that I had to pick between one of these. Sure, I was good at math and I enjoyed it, but I also loved anything that had to do with art, like painting and drawing. Even in high school, I felt that I was torn between these worlds—after all, there’s no way that you can pursue both these subjects… right?

In college, however, alongside my Calculus 2 class, I had the opportunity to also take a Comics and Cartooning class, where I was able to formally learn art and design. Then, I was able to really delve into the similarities between the two subjects.

They both take practice and rely heavily on your ability to critically visually analyze the world. At DreamBox, I had the opportunity to work with Ayu Othman, our Art Director, to help create some avatars and wallpapers, while exploring the function of art and design at a technology company.

All good art and good math take a lot of practice and self-reflection. I would start off an idea by creating a thumbnail sketch, which would give a general direction to where I would want to take the project. After we would go through this sketch, I’d take notes of the critiques that I needed to implement in the next draft.

This is strikingly similar to the way I had started to approach math problems in my classes: I’d rarely turn in the first draft of my homework to my professors. Rather, I spent time trying to tackle the problem on my own, and then I would take my solution to my peers and we’d go through each other’s methods and critique and discuss with one another. Though the first and final draft of an assignment would be going in a different direction, there would be a major difference in the quality of my understanding of the problem.

Visual art and math have yet another similarity in its reflection on analyzing the world we live in. When a student asks about the importance of math, we say that it’s incredibly applicable in the real world: which is equally true about art. While working with Ayu, it became clear that art in the classroom versus art in the real world was an incredibly intriguing part of the process. For example, the importance of size. As a hobbyist digital artist instead of a professional one, I had never truly considered the importance of size, though as I learned, size plays an important role in the success of the final image. Likewise, in a math class if I’m working on a direct problem I may see the answer, but not what it really represents. In a real-world application, however, the “point” of math becomes clearer.

It’s important that we show students that they do not need to give up one subject to do the other—in fact, they can do both!

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