“By itself, a geometric construction is a stark, black-and-white array of lines and circles. But add color to it, and it can become an exquisite work or art.”
After a tiresome evening out a few years ago, I, along with a few other sleepy souls, was stuck on a subway train platform in the middle of the night. There was something fishy going on in the subway and everything was at a standstill. The man next to me told me he was the artist-in-residence at the Bowery Poetry Club. He gave me the exhibition’s promotional card and the next morning I looked him up. The artist† was a professor of mathematics who used his knowledge to produce math-inspired artwork. Except for the drawings of MC Escher, I had never really taken into account the role math could take in visual art.
This anecdote is what brought me to Beautiful Geometry, a joint project by mathematician Eli Maor and Swiss artist Eugen Jost. I had so forgotten about my nighttime art/math encounter until I received a copy of this book.
With Maor’s informative narrative, Jost has created several plates utilizing his computer and other mediums like acrylic on canvas. Each chapter is a small morsel of geometry’s history starting back with ancient thinkers and moving in to modern times. Readers will be familiar with names such as Euclid, Zeno, and Fibonacci and take in delight when Jost visually represents their theories and sequences.
I must admit, however, that the book was not exactly what I had expected. The publisher describes the book as a “visual history of geometry.” In a way, the book is exactly that, but I still questioned its execution. What I thought I was getting in to would lean more towards the historical perspective. Half the time Maor did, indeed, do this. I enjoyed all of the tidbits about each mathematician or important historical event. Yet, half was a bit more like a textbook. I felt my eyes glazing over many of the proofs. With that said, I think I would have found math class in school far more interesting with a book like Beautiful Geometry. In a way, the book acted like a parent sneaking veggies into a difficult child’s dinner. Jost’s alluring images accompanying Maor’s approachable and intriguing narrative was a lovely combination.
Maor and Jost approach geometry much like the ancient Greeks: instead of relying solely on numbers and figures, their minds were tuned to the visual. It was impressive to first read Maor’s brief description of a proof along with the relevant history, and then to see how Jost interpreted it. In his introduction, Maor describes mathematics as “cold, rational, and emotionless,” where art is meant to be expressive and subjective. How could these two possible meet? But, they do, dear readers!
Beautiful Geometry, even with the abundance of math (which always makes me nervous!), I was fascinated to see both Maor’s exploration of geometry’s history as well as a co-project where both the participants inspire each other along with the subject matter.
The book is filled with many wonderful plates created by Eugen Jost. I have selected a few of my favorites for the gallery slideshow below.
Honestly, I’ve been a little confused about the release date of this book. The publisher has assigned it various dates, but I think it will finally become available this month. See the publisher’s page for more information.
† The artist was John Sims. I suggest you see his website, where he displays his past projects.