Book review: Viewpoints: Mathematical Perspective and Fractal Geometry in Art

Viewpoints

This book is certainly quite different from the sort I usually read and review—but I am always interested in new and creative ways to teach mathematics! This is quite a fun book. It’s all about visual art and some of the ways it is informed by mathematics, with focuses on perspective and fractals. It’s full of hands-on learning activities: reproducing a building using masking tape on a glass window, using shish kebab skewers to help view artworks at a museum, drawing assignments, and, yes, some math exercises. Interspersed between the chapters are “artist vignettes” telling the story (and showing off the (often amazing!) artwork) of artists whose work is somehow mathematically inspired. I didn’t learn much math from this book, but I did learn some fun things about art, and I suspect that the reverse would be true for artists without much math background. This book should work well for students who haven’t had too much fun with math in the past but are willing to try something new. It would especially work well as the textbook for a hands-on class or workshop taught by an enthusiastic instructor—as, in fact, it is designed to be.

My one gripe is with the quality of many of the included images (and yes, I find it strange that I should have to complain about this in a book about art!). First of all, the book is printed in black and white (with a collection of color plates in the middle); yes, of course I understand that there are tradeoffs involving the cost of printing the book, but still, it’s rather disappointing to have a book about art printed in black and white. The included diagrams and figures look great, but many of the included images (i.e. reproductions of artworks) are much too dark and hard to see, and I repeatedly found myself thinking, “I bet this painting/photograph/artwork would be really beautiful/interesting/amazing… if only I could see it in color.”

Still, overall, this is a great book with fresh perspective on the intersection of math and art that illuminates both subjects.

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About Brent

Assistant Professor of Computer Science at Hendrix College. Functional programmer, mathematician, teacher, pianist, follower of Jesus.
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