The math behind the art

Just when you think that mathematics and art are on opposites sides of the “chess board,” MC Escher’s works of art take this generic stereotype and proves it otherwise. MC Escher, also known as Maurits Cornelis Escher, is well known as one of the world’s most famous graphic artists. Escher was born in Leeuwarden, The Netherlands on June 17, 1898.

During Escher’s early years, he was a sickly child and was put into a special school when he was seven.  He failed the second grade and while his artistic abilities surpassed many others, his general studies grades were poor.

In 1919, Escher attended Haarlem School of Architecture and Decorative Arts and by 1922 he was traveling Europe in Florence, San Gimignano, Volterram and Siena.

Though Escher was not a studious individual and did not excel in school, his pieces of art have been known well throughout history.

On Nov. 6 here at Bellevue College, Ed Morris, a mathematics professor from Highline Community College spoke about Escher’s works of art and the complexity behind it. “Is it art? Or mathematics? No one really knows.”

Said Morris, “As a mathematician I don’t like not having answers.” (The math that Morris explained that some of Escher’s works of art indicate Pythagorean theorem and distance between squares).

Examples given were that Escher took a shape and used tessellations by then rotating the shape and making it fit together like a puzzle of never ending pieces with (1/n+1/k=1/2) N: the numbers of sides of the regular figure. And K: the number of figures to meet at a corner. Morris went on about the “rotation” and “metamorphism” that Escher used in some of his pieces.

Escher has several well known pieces like Snakes (1969, his final print) where rotational symmetry comes into play creating an illusion that the snakes are infinite and have an infinite increase in number.

Morris gave an excellent presentation about Escher’s “mathematical gift” by creating what seemed like infinite images of art. Smaller and smaller was also an example of how each lizard  is  the same but not the same size.

“I have found this information about Escher intriguing which is what has kept me interested,” said Morris.