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Mathematics in Twentieth-Century Literature and Art

, 184 pages

9 halftones, 10 line drawings

June 2014



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Mathematics in Twentieth-Century Literature and Art

Content, Form, Meaning

During the twentieth century, many artists and writers turned to abstract mathematical ideas to help them realize their aesthetic ambitions. Man Ray, Marcel Duchamp, and, perhaps most famously, Piet Mondrian used principles of mathematics in their work. Was it mere coincidence, or were these artists simply following their instincts, which in turn were ruled by mathematical underpinnings, such as optimal solutions for filling a space? If math exists within visual art, can it be found within literary pursuits? In short, just what is the relationship between mathematics and the creative arts?

In this provocative, original exploration of mathematical ideas in art and literature, Robert Tubbs argues that the links are much stronger than previously imagined and exceed both coincidence and commonality of purpose. Not only does he argue that mathematical ideas guided the aesthetic visions of many twentieth-century artists and writers, Tubbs further asserts that artists and writers used math in their creative processes even though they seemed to have no affinity for mathematical thinking.

In the end, Tubbs makes the case that art can be better appreciated when the math that inspired it is better understood. An insightful tour of the great masters of the last century and an argument that challenges long-held paradigms, Mathematics in Twentieth-Century Literature and Art will appeal to mathematicians, humanists, and artists, as well as instructors teaching the connections among math, literature, and art.

Robert Tubbs is an associate professor of mathematics at the University of Colorado–Boulder and author of What Is a Number? Mathematical Concepts and Their Origins, also published by Johns Hopkins.

"A refreshing and unusual contribution that should appeal to a larger audience than mathematicians alone, including historians and art theorists. Tubbs’s focus on artists whose mathematical intentions are made clear by the artists themselves is original."

"For those viewing mathematics and the creative arts as distinctly separate endeavors, Tubbs provides an insightful treatise that proves otherwise... Though the content of Tubbs's book is challenging, it is also accessible and should interest many on both sides of the perceived divide between mathematics and the arts."

"A fascinating journey through the works of modern art and literature... This book can be seen as a guide to understanding the various movements that emerged within artistic circles in the 20th century. Tubbs does an excellent job of leading the reader through this world of ideas, gently guiding the non-mathematicians through the panorama of advanced mathematics, and mathematicians and those who are artistically naive to an appreciate of the world of modern art and literature... The book serves as a compass to guide the reader to a better understanding of modern art."

"A beautiful narration... Every chapter is well balanced between the mathematical side and the art side."

"Books like Mathematics in Twentieth-Century Literature and Art help us get rid of prejudices, and indeed open our eyes to see."

"Tubbs’s exposition proves so clear and thorough that the mathematical novice reading Mathematics in Twentieth-Century Literature and Art receives an introductory course in the fundamentals of higher mathematics... Reluctant mathematicians will be delighted to discover that Tubbs’s mathematical explanations afford new analyses of canonical artworks."

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