Art Meets Math: Ancient Meeting of Worlds
We talk about “real world math” and practical applications
of mathematics concepts with students as we try to instill a sense of
meaning. Take students on a break from the rule-defined, structured realm
of modern mathematics lessons and visit some creative examples where mathematics
formed the very basis for various examples of ancient art.
Both famous and not-so-famous instances of art from such ancient Greek,
Hindu, Islamic, Egyptian, and Native American cultures will amaze students
with not only the intricacy, but with the knowledge that the very establishment
of the art is based upon mathematical principles. NA-VA.9-12.4 Understanding
the Visual Arts in Relation to History and Cultures NA-VA.9-12.6 Making
Connections Between Visual Arts and Other Disciplines TEKS §111.36. Mathematical
Models with Applications(9) The student uses algebraic and geometric models
to represent patterns and structures. (A) use geometric transformations,
symmetry, and perspective drawings to describe mathematical patterns and
structure in art and architecture; here is a direct correlation between
art and mathematics; this relationship reaches back as far as the Stone
Age (just look at Stonehenge and the 56 Aubrey Holes).
This prehistoric architectural sculpture infused numerous math concepts
into the design. The Aubrey Holes represent the phases of the lunar calendar
as the people of that time interpreted it. (Invite students to scan this
article for any math terms that they find; look closely at the photos
and animation.) The fact is that art (and architecture) and mathematics
were not really considered separate fields in many societies throughout
recorded and even prerecorded history. Students will identify a variety
of mathematical concepts and principles that underlie the foundation of
ancient art from a wide selection of civilizations and cultures.
Meso and North American Art
Intrigue students by starting with Earth/Matrix.
This particular project seeks evidence of mathematics and geometric principles
that underlie various samples of ancient artwork. This organization consists
of a variety of scholars whose primary intent is to understand and explain
various famous ancient specimens of artwork and architecture from a mathematical
Specifically, send students to Paleoanimation, which explores ancient
cultural art samples using animation. Scroll down and begin with Pakal,
The Ancient Astronaut. Watch this video and read the information for an
introduction to the inherent embedding of mathematical concepts and principles
directly into the design. This ancient sculpture is actually the plans
for a spacecraft constructed by the Mayans. As students watch the animation
of the image (just look at the pivotal joints and rotational movements
of the various components and it starts to come together), a newfound
sense of awe and respect for this society is born.
Continue with the pointer in An Animation of the Aztec Calendar. Evidence
of space, position, symmetry, coordinates and axis, and symbols are just
a few of the important components of this famous and ancient sculpture.
After students finish the animation, continue with Earth/Matrix’s exploration,
The Aztec Calendar: Math and Design.
Invite students to look for further evidence of mathematical concepts
in other Native Indian artwork—including sculptures, pottery, and textiles—from
the Aztecs, Incas, Mayans, and various North American societies. Students
should click each thumbnail and then click the actual image for an enlarged
view of the art. Additional features in the online exhibition are available
from the Art Institute of Chicago’s collection of Indian Art of the Americas.
If you would like to read the entire article by Stephanie
Tannenbaum, click here
©2008 Stephanie Tannenbaum