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Visiting Math Professor Uncovers the Relationship between Math and Art

Byline: Xiaomeng Li

Posted: November 21, 2010

On Thurs, Nov. 11, Annalisa Crannell, professor of Mathematics at Franklin & Marshall College in Lancaster, Pa., visited Wilson College and gave a public lecture.

As part of the "Wilson Science Series" launched at the beginning of this academic year, Crannell gave a lecture entitled "Math and Art: the Good, the Bad and the Pretty" in the Harry R. Brooks Complex for Science, Mathematics and Technology.

The Intrigue of Mixing Math and Art

Amy Ensley, Director of the Hankey Center for the Education and Advancement of Women, said that Wilson invited Crannell because: "We were intrigued by her research on the connection between a technical field like mathematics and a creative field like art, " which is "under the impression that there is little room for creativity in a field like mathematics."

A Thought-Provoking Presentation

Crannell started her lecture by asking the audience to move forward to the front.

"I know why you're all back there," said Crannell, "because you think math is scary."

Crannell said that throughout her teaching career, she found that students are always afraid of math but not art. However, "many students hadn't had art since 6th grade." She believed that "learn[ing] math in a right way makes you a better mathematician and artist." And in fact, "many artists throughout history were interested in both math and perspectives," said Crannell.

Crannell's lecture focused on the topic of perspective. She used the artwork of Albert Durer, a famous German painter and printmaker, as examples that demonstrate the importance of perspective and how the mathematical perspective applies to the study of geometry and algebra. It also creates a three-dimensional environment on a two-dimensional picture plane. She also gave the audience handouts with images and encouraged hands-on interactions. With an exuberant personality, Crannell made the auditorium fill with laughter and claps.

Crannell on Her Experiences

In the question and answer section of her talk, Crannell--who graduated from Bryn Mawr (a women's college) as an undergraduate--said that "there are great things about women's colleges…I felt less pressure to dress and the environment was particularly supportive." When asked how she felt working in a traditionally "men's field," Crannell said she did not think math is a men's field and that the idea is culturally constructed.

"I love math," Crannell concluded, "I think it is a collaborating endeavor and I love being with people."

A Student's Point of View

Anush Petrosyan '14, said that "the presentation was an interesting one. I had never before imagined there could be an actual link between math and art and the examples shown by Dr. Crannell proved to be convincing. I felt that everybody was amazed."

Looking to Attend a "Women in Science Series" Event?

According to Ensley, this is the last seminar for this semester's "Women in Science Series." "We will have two more speakers in the spring semester, and are currently discussing whom to invite," said Ensley.

Last Updated: September 25, 2011

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