I recently became aware of the mathematical artist Lun-Yi London Tsai. Tsai has a master’s degree in math, and it is clear that he has studied a great deal of math in his life. His mathematical paintings and drawings are like a snapshot of chalkboard right at the end of a brilliantly delivered lecture. There’s a chaotic energy, a blend of math symbols as art, surfaces and shapes common to mathematics as well as the artists own interpretation of the concepts and processes.
I really like Tsai’s work because, as a mathematician, I always have these strange ideas in my head of what certain math concepts look like. Not the numbers and notation, but the actual carrying out of infinite processes. There’s such a beauty and order to it all. And I’m no artist, but I often find myself doodling tangent planes, manifolds and chain complexes when I’m sitting in meetings.
And there’s nothing quite like the gobsmacked feeling you get when you walk in on a chalkboard covered with really intense looking math. There are several tumblr dedicated to precisely this art, and in fact the photographer Alejandro Guijarro recently traveled the world photographing the chalkboards of quantum physicists for his art exhibit Momentum. And in a very cool way, I feel like Tsai’s art — particularly the charcoal drawings — recreate that sensation.
Here is Tsai in an excerpt from from an interview for Germany’s Jahr der Mathematik.
I don’t actually have a favorite number. When people find out I do art and math, they guess that my favorite number must be Phi, the golden section. But I actually don’t like that number much, because I think it limits people’s concept of what math and art is about—there’s so much more to math and art than just the golden ratio! I’ve only made one painting of this number and I called it “Goodbye, Golden Ratio.”
It’s always nice to recall that bridge between the theoretical and the visual, and I’m always excited to find new mathematical artists. Are there mathematical objects that you love to draw, professionally or just for fun? Are there mathematical processes for which you have a distinctly visual interpretation? Tweet it at me @extremefriday.