Art - Sol LeWitt - Math

This past week marks the rising of the Sol LeWitt sun in my part of the world.  At the Williams College Museum of Art (WCMA), a beautiful new exhibition on The ABCDs of Sol LeWitt has just opened, exploring the underlying grammar of his art and ideas.  Moreover, a major collaboration opened at the Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art (MASS MoCA) titled Sol LeWitt: A Wall Drawing Retrospective, comprising of forty years of his work.  This installation, which consists of one hundred works and which covers almost an acre of wall space in a three-story building, will remain on view for twenty-five years.

Because of his geometric patterns, colors, and permutations, many view LeWitt’s work as an example of the interplay between mathematics and art.  I strongly disagree.  Let me explain.  There have been numerous attempts to join math and art.  Artists have depicted dimension, shape, structure, and numbers which some people claim to be mathematics.  Similarly, mathematicians have incorporated graphic designs, models, illustrations, and visual software, which some people claim to be art.  I believe this to be a cop-out, whereby both disciplines end up unintentionally cheapening the work and innovation of the other.  Indeed, until we experience real pain, frustration, and failure, we are fooling ourselves with easy substitutes and making a mockery of what the interplay of math and art can truly be.

So what does it mean for the fields of art and math to intersect?  I don’t know.  But glimpses into the works of others such as Erik Demaine, Martin Demaine, and Robert Lang show me that bridges can indeed be built between these two worlds.  For a few years now, with support from the Mellon Foundation, I have been trying to figure this out.  To this end, Pau Atela of Smith College brought together twelve artists and four mathematicians over three days in the middle of October 2008.  This MathStudio project, which took place at the APE space, helped me better understand the creative process involved between the two groups.  There was a sense of playfulness and experimentation as both groups worked on unraveling many difficult (and some unsolved) problems in mathematics.  Struggles with capturing the heart of the problem as well as issues with communicating the ideas were experienced by all involved.  Another event, this time a symposium open to the public, is planned at Williams College for March 14, 2009, with Robert Lang as one of the keynote speakers.

I dream of new mathematics created through new art, recognized by both fields as novel and interesting.  If through all my current failures I find some success, I will keep you posted.