Honors College Students Explore Math Concepts Through an Artistic Lens

Most Honors College classes are designed to be interdisciplinary, with wide-ranging ideas and concepts mingling together in the classroom. This type of educational approach can at times make for some unexpected assignments. For instance, a math class probably isn’t the first place you’d expect to find a treasure trove of student artwork. But for Dr. Annalisa Calini‘s Spring 2021 Honors course, HONS 216 Conceptual Tour of Contemporary Mathematics, the arts proved to be an ideal medium through which to explore mathematical concepts.

“The creative world is full of mathematical ideas,” Professor Calini says. “Sometimes hidden from sight. As part of this course, the students were asked to explore a topic using the lens of their own interests and to bring it to light in their own creative voices.”

Check out a sampling of the artistic assignments and projects the students turned in throughout the semester.

Kiley Pettit’s Describing and Exploring Cantor’s Diagonal Proof Through Dance
Medium: Dance

Artist Statement: “Cantor’s Diagonal Proof…is based upon the idea of infinity and how multiple sets can have different amounts of infinity. It includes the process of comparing two infinite sets by trying to match their elements through one-to-one correspondence…to determine if one set has a greater infinity compared to the other. Cantor concluded that if the missing number was found in the set, then both of the elements of the two sets cannot have the same infinity. So, naturally, as I have an extreme passion for dance and how it allows a dancer to tell a full story through movement, emotion, and staging, I decided to combine both mathematics and dance to create an in-depth exploration of Cantor’s Diagonal Proof!”

Read Kiley’s complete essay here


Jody Bell (Artist), Terence Carey, and Jack Koch’s Final Group Project: Measuring Distance in Different Space Artwork
Medium: Acrylic on canvas

Artist Statement: “This piece is intended to be representative of Euclidean, Spherical, and Hyperbolic geometries; specifically, the different manipulation of familiar objects as portrayed on unfamiliar surfaces. The sun has a face which was constructed on a spherical surface — thus the eyes stretch downwards on the sides, while the mouth creeps up more than would be expected. The moon, however, is a hyperbolic paraboloid (which proved to be much harder to replicate). Here, what is produced is almost a saddle shape, where there is narrowing at the lowest point, which is the center. The background is simply indicative of a night sky (albeit it rather abstract), but I refrained from adding much depth as this is a background on a Euclidean plane — constructed primarily in 2-d. Symbolically, I chose to manipulate the sun and moon to convey just how different these planes are. It is fully possible to have two identical objects (in this case, two faces) and based on the shape and form in which they are placed (hyperbolic or spherical) they change completely. Thus, the sun and moon are obvious symbols of these polar opposites, yet connected in their personification.”



Sydney Davis’ The Golden Ratio’s Role in Plastic Surgery…Fact or Fiction?
Medium: Video essay


Maddy Landa’s Platonic Solids Sculpture
Medium: Sculpture

Artist Statement: “Platonic solids can be used to each represent a different element, so I painted them in the corresponding colors and attached a small sketch of what they are supposed to represent. The dodecahedron is the universe, the cube is earth, for the icosahedron (rest in peace) I included the water sketch that was supposed to go along with it, and the tetrahedron is fire.” 


Sarah Bagwell’s Fibonacci Numbers in Guitar Composition
Medium: Guitar

Artist Statement: “Mathematics are present in some of the least expected areas of life, including nature, art, and biology. Although art is viewed as a more abstract topic compared to the precision of math, aesthetics in the real world can all be examined closer to discover the involvement of math. Specifically focusing on the relationship between the art of music and the mathematical concept of the Fibonacci Sequence, which may seem like an unlikely correlation, one can understand how important different mathematical concepts are in the composition of music.”

Read Sarah’s complete essay here


Lizzy Ley’s Penrose Pattern
Medium: Stencil on paper

Artist Statement: “In section 4.4, Soothing Symmetry and Spinning Pinwheels, the Penrose Pattern in briefly mentioned. This type of pattern has a scaled property, no rigid symmetries, and only uses two tile shapes, known as kites and darts. With the use of this pattern and many others, there is what seems to be an infinite possibility of how one can orchestrate their plane. The combination of symmetries allows for fascinating artwork and patterned pieces. My inspiration: I have a birthday card on my desk given to me by my sister. I wanted to see if I could recreate it with elements of the Penrose Pattern intertwined.”


Bristol Barnes – Fibonacci Collage
Medium: Marker on paper

Artist Statement: “I decided to do a drawn collage inspired by Vi Hart’s video about Fibonacci numbers. I had never heard of Fibonacci numbers before this section and they were really intriguing to me. I began to draw spirals like the ones in her videos with the numbers themselves coming out the biggest spiral in the center. Surrounding it, I did various fruits and plants in Vi Hart’s video that she used as examples.”


Jillian Sebelist’s Adventures At The Gym
Medium: Humorous cartoon on legal pad


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