Connecting art & algebra

Ideas from many branches of mathematics have been used by artists and critics to create or analyse works of art.

They have been used to influence the content, the colours, the composition and the temporal structure of works.

These applications have ranged from productive to downright silly, and this lecture will include examples of both kinds.

For instance, a number of twentieth century composers explored the use of stochastic processes in works of “aleatoric music”, and some twenty-first century artists from the ANU have adapted these musical ideas in visual and audio-visual works. Merely selecting elements at random adds little to a work but, as the composers discovered, stochastic processes with appropriate structure can provide texture in a work whose main features are still determined by the composer.

A good example of these processes is a Markov chain: a stochastic model describing a sequence of possible events in which the probability of each event depends only on the state attained in the previous event. A Markov chain is particularly convenient because it has significant features that are easily revealed by some simple matrix algebra, which explains one interconnection between mathematics and art.

About the speaker

Tim Brook is a practising artist and a lapsed mathematician. He specialises in the animation of still images using long slow dissolves, blending slides one after another to produce a sequence of slowly changing images. He describes a slide-tape work as an invitation to make connections—an audience is invited to observe not things but relationships between things. As such, meaning appears in the space between the images.

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