Visions of the Abstract in Art and Mathematics
- Winner of the 2021 PROSE Award, Mathematics Category
392 pp., 6 x 9 in, 237 color illus.
- Published: June 16, 2020
- Publisher: The MIT Press
- Published: May 22, 2020
- Publisher: The MIT Press
Exploring common themes in modern art, mathematics, and science, including the concept of space, the notion of randomness, and the shape of the cosmos.
This is a book about art—and a book about mathematics and physics. In Lumen Naturae (the title refers to a purely immanent, non-supernatural form of enlightenment), mathematical physicist Matilde Marcolli explores common themes in modern art and modern science—the concept of space, the notion of randomness, the shape of the cosmos, and other puzzles of the universe—while mapping convergences with the work of such artists as Paul Cezanne, Mark Rothko, Sol LeWitt, and Lee Krasner. Her account, focusing on questions she has investigated in her own scientific work, is illustrated by more than two hundred color images of artworks by modern and contemporary artists.
Thus Marcolli finds in still life paintings broad and deep philosophical reflections on space and time, and connects notions of space in mathematics to works by Paul Klee, Salvador Dalí, and others. She considers the relation of entropy and art and how notions of entropy have been expressed by such artists as Hans Arp and Fernand Léger; and traces the evolution of randomness as a mode of artistic expression. She analyzes the relation between graphical illustration and scientific text, and offers her own watercolor-decorated mathematical notebooks. Throughout, she balances discussions of science with explorations of art, using one to inform the other. (She employs some formal notation, which can easily be skipped by general readers.) Marcolli is not simply explaining art to scientists and science to artists; she charts unexpected interdependencies that illuminate the universe.
Bridging seemingly dissimilar areas is remarkably difficult, but the rewards are many: expanding our thinking and opening new vistas. Marcolli guides us through complicated intersections for a journey that I urge you to take part in.
Julio Mario Ottino, Northwestern University; winner of the National Academy of Engineering Gordon Prize for Innovation in Engineering and Technology Education
In this unique book, Matilde Marcolli describes what modern art looks like through the lens of mathematical physics. Marcolli illuminates the concepts of chance, entropy, spacetime, and cosmology that connect art, science, and mathematics. Lumen Naturae is an invaluable interdisciplinary resource.
Lynn Gamwell, lecturer on the history of art, science, and mathematics at the School of Visual Arts in New York, and author of Mathematics and Art: A Cultural History
A vast, deeply personal, survey of artists' work expressing ideas from physics and mathematics that will help scientists understand some of the impulses behind modern abstract art—and simultaneously an intriguing introduction to modern physics and math for artists interested in science.
Margaret Wertheim, author of Pythagoras Trousers, a cultural history of physics, and The Pearly Gates of Cyberspace, a history of ideas about space
Marcolli rethinks understanding of space on all scales and types; she integrates the arts as a way of knowing on equal standing with contemporary sciences. But she does not avoid the conundrum that after millennia of human sciences, we know that 95% of the universe is unknown. This book lays out new paths.
Roger F. Malina, Professor of Physics and Art and Technology, University of Texas at Dallas, and Executive Editor of the Leonardo Publications
This is an extraordinary, fascinating, and astonishing book.
"In Marcolli's book, you will find lots of great art, bits explaining sundry parts of mathematics and physics, and insight as to how they all reflect on one another in her mind."