Beauty In Chaos

Students Explore Link Between Math and Art

By MICAH DICKER

Photos: Awa Sow Students pose in front of blank canvases at the Museum of Modern Art (top). Seemingly chaotic designs are made from two suspended paint bottles, a project designed by juniors Alex Narvaez and Chris Ortiz.

Photos: Awa Sow Students pose in front of blank canvases at the Museum of Modern Art (top). Seemingly chaotic designs are made from two suspended paint bottles, a project designed by juniors Alex Narvaez and Chris Ortiz.

During the second week of class, students taking Beauty in Chaos visited the Museum of Modern Art, where, according to senior Jie Wen Guan, they got to see “how math is used to create art.”

One sculpture, called “Spatial Construction no. 12” by Aleksandr Rodchenko, stood out to Guan.

The piece consists of various-sized circles wrapped and twisted around each other to make a sphere-like shape.

Guan was mesmerized by the sculpture’s seemingly irregular pattern, and she learned that a relatively new branch of mathematics, called Chaos Theory, can be used to describe such complex systems in abstract art and nature.

Guan is among 23 Upper House students that explored Chaos Theory this past month during a new course called Beauty in Chaos.

The class is part of the Spring Intersession, a six-week period during which juniors and seniors engaged in intensive courses, including Modern Dance, Law & Order, Public Relations, and Web Design.

Beauty in Chaos was designed by Mr. Smith, who teaches math, and Ms. Gates, who teaches humanities, to help students understand how mathematics can describe nature’s most intricate and eye-catching designs.

Chaos Theory “attempts to explain patterns where there didn’t seem to be patterns before,” explained Mr. Smith. “Things that 50 years ago someone would have said were random are actually very mathematical.”

Juniors and seniors in all levels of math, from geometry to calculus, had the opportunity to explore the mathematical patterns present in nature, such as in leaves, clouds and river rapids, as well as in abstract art, and then use this math to create their own art.

According to Gates and Smith, students were taught both high school- and college-level geometry, engaging in lessons that they may have been familiar with, such as transformations and tessellations, as well as new topics, such as fractal geometry and topology.

Even though the math component wasn’t that difficult for Guan to learn, she did note that “the harder part for me was the conceptual part like, ‘How is symmetry shown?’”

Students in the class also looked at the works of M.C. Escher, a graphic artist whose illustrations are full of mathematical equations, even if they’re not obvious to the average viewer.

In addition to studying math, natural systems, and abstract art, there is a strong research component to the class.

Each student went on a personal “inspiration trip,” as Ms. Gates called it, wandering around the city and looking for a work of art that could be explained by the math they spent the past month learning.

Students then used their new understanding of Chaos Theory to create their own art, such as paintings or sculptures. Students who created a 3-dimensional object were able to model it using online software and then print it out using a 3D printer.

In order to produce art, students had to determine the kinds of math that they felt produced the most beautiful design, and then research artistic or natural formations that could be explained by this math.

Two juniors, Alex Narvaez and Chris Ortiz, suspended bottles of paint from hooks attached to a piece of wood to create intricate spirals that look random, but can be described with mathematical equations.

According to Narvaez, the paint “makes really cool designs depending on where you throw [the bottles] from and how you throw [them].”

Students in Beauty in Chaos, as well as other Intersession courses, will display their work at the Expo on June 12, 5-7pm.

Photos: Awa Sow Juniors Jann Paul Plaza and Jack Cronin investigate tessellations during a Beauty in Chaos class.

Photos: Awa Sow
Juniors Jann Paul Plaza and Jack Cronin investigate tessellations during a Beauty in Chaos class.