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Mathematics and Art:
A Cultural History
Lynn Gamwell
Foreword by Neil deGrasse Tyson

Hardcover | 2016 | $49.50 | £37.95 | ISBN: 9780691165288
576 pp. | 9 x 12 | 444 color illus. 102 line illus.
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This is a cultural history of mathematics and art, from antiquity to the present. Mathematicians and artists have long been on a quest to understand the physical world they see before them and the abstract objects they know by thought alone. Taking readers on a tour of the practice of mathematics and the philosophical ideas that drive the discipline, Lynn Gamwell points out the important ways mathematical concepts have been expressed by artists. Sumptuous illustrations of artworks and cogent math diagrams are featured in Gamwell's comprehensive exploration.

Gamwell begins by describing mathematics from antiquity to the Enlightenment, including Greek, Islamic, and Asian mathematics. Then focusing on modern culture, Gamwell traces mathematicians' search for the foundations of their science, such as David Hilbert's conception of mathematics as an arrangement of meaning-free signs, as well as artists' search for the essence of their craft, such as Aleksandr Rodchenko's monochrome paintings. She shows that self-reflection is inherent to the practice of both modern mathematics and art, and that this introspection points to a deep resonance between the two fields: Kurt Gödel posed questions about the nature of mathematics in the language of mathematics and Jasper Johns asked "What is art?" in the vocabulary of art. Throughout, Gamwell describes the personalities and cultural environments of a multitude of mathematicians and artists, from Gottlob Frege and Benoît Mandelbrot to Max Bill and Xu Bing.

Mathematics and Art demonstrates how mathematical ideas are embodied in the visual arts and will enlighten all who are interested in the complex intellectual pursuits, personalities, and cultural settings that connect these vast disciplines.

Lynn Gamwell is lecturer in the history of art, science, and mathematics at the School of Visual Arts in New York. She is the author of Exploring the Invisible: Art, Science, and the Spiritual (Princeton).


"This is a marvelous coffee table book . . . very well researched and documented. It touches upon so many fundamental questions that philosophers, scientists, mathematicians and artists have asked since antiquity. But yet it guides the reader smoothly through all these competing visions and theories without becoming dull or getting lost in abstraction. This is the history of Western civilization with particular interest in art and mathematics, illuminating and instructive, and all wrapped up in a rich, colorful, and fancy book."--Adhemar Bultheel, European Mathematical Society

"This is the beauty and power of this book: [Mathematics and Art] is an intellectual tour de force of art history and its interaction with mathematics that will draw most readers, including me, back for further reading and study."--Frank Swetz, MAA Reviews

"Excellent new book. . . . Overall this is a comprehensive, valuable and detailed book. It is written in an accessible style, with enough mathematics to interest the technical reader without overwhelming one with an arts background. . . . Its rich anthology is particularly relevant today, given the explosion of interest in the digital arts and the need for digital artists to use maths creatively. I will definitely be keeping it close at hand."--William Latham, New Scientist

"The author does an artful job in creating a wide-ranging and beautifully illustrated survey that mathematicians and art historians will enjoy."--John Barrow, The Art Newspaper


"Mathematics and Art describes mankind’s search for patterns and the expression of these numbers and forms by artists. This book will enrich the reader’s understanding of mathematics and the arts throughout history, and their deep interconnections in today’s global culture of high technology and contemporary art."--Tatsuo Miyajima, artist

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Table of Contents:

FOREWORD by Neil deGrasse Tyson IX
1 Arithmetic and Geometry 1
2 Proportion 73
3 Infinity 109
4 Formalism 151
5 Logic 197
6 Intuitionism 225
7 Symmetry 249
8 Utopian Visions after World War I 277
9 The Incompleteness of Mathematics 321
10 Computation 355
1 1 Geometric Abstraction after World War II 385
12 Computers in Mathematics and Art 455
13 Platonism in the Postmodern Era 499

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File created: 4/28/2016

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