Is there anything more than maths and art?


Historically, there was no such division. Many of the great artists of the past were also mathematicians, engineers, anatomists, etc. Of course, in the past, it was comparatively easy to become an expert in many if not all areas of human knowledge.

Now, it’s difficult to conquer even one area of human knowledge, so we’ve adjusted by developing expertise in ever smaller specialisations.

In my final year at school, I still could not decide between studying science and going to art school. So I tossed a coin. Science won. I was a little sad, but consoled myself that I could always return to art when I retired – it would have been trickier to take up science as a retiree!

So what happened? well, I became a scientist. I became an expert in visual psychophysics, specifically the tiny, tiny specialisation of first and second order integration of spatial and orientational information in the early visual cortex. A lot of my source visual material was… paintings. Art. And now, for relaxation, I use my mathematical expertise to develop my own art.

Art and mathematics are not that different, at least to me. When I plan a painting, I think in terms of geometry, perspective, and other essentially mathematical constructs. When I read a mathematical proof, in my mind, the various parts form a complex ballet or orchestral composition. There’s a false dichotomy between the two, which has been supported – if not promulgated – through education. In truth, good scientists are as creative and radical as any artist, and good artists are as precise and methodical as any scientist.

Has anyone taken an online craft course? Do they work?

I’ve taken a few, and plan to take more. Most have been very useful, particularly those that provided backup material and online contact with the teacher and other learners.

If you are interested, there are many craft videos on Youtube that you could follow, just to see what it might be like.

One thing that I learned is that, while I’m a very visual learner, I’m not a particularly good ‘video’ learner. I prefer to learn from diagrams and images, not from someone talking and moving at the same time, with the camera not quite centred on the activity, and shadows and what-not getting in the way. So for me, having backup materials is vital.

One of the big advantages of video is of course that you can run the video again and again. Not so easy to persuade a real-life instructor to repeat that move 50 times until you get it!