Sunday, 10 February 2013

Are mathematicians and artists opposites?

(To comment on my recent Gresham College lecture please go to this post.)

A newspaper feature today ("My funny Valentine: Do opposites really attract?" in the Independent)
presents as its prime example of the attraction of opposites a couple com[prising an artist and a mathematician.

Are mathematicians and artists really opposites?  I know many mathematicians and artists who get on.  Why wouldn't they?  Both professions require creativity, thinking for oneself, a willingness to challenge (or at least test) received opinion, perseverance in the face of difficulty, preparedness to wait for inspiration, and integrity.  And sometimes, perhaps, occasional use of drugs for stimulation (the drug for choice of mathematicians being coffee, and the use generally rather more than occasional.)

The public perception that mathematics is routine drudgery should be challenged!  Mathematicians and artists have a lot in common.


  1. “A writer should have the precision of a poet and the imagination of a scientist.” — Vladimir Nabokov

  2. there is that wonderful short clip of Richard Feynman talking about "beauty" from the artist's and scientist's viewpoint (pertinent to mathematicians as well):

  3. i agree with you, tony - when the journalist was interviewing me he kept saying, yes i can see all the similarities but tell me the differences! and as the feature was concnetrating on that, that is what you got. differences. opposites etc but it was a fun pieceand it was a nice piece of publicity for my dating site - which for anyone who didnt notice is - Internet dating for the intelligent, older, person (the ffifty to imply 40s, 50s and 60s - hows that for a bit of imaginative maths??) who would like a partner. its really taking off so anyone reading this who is looking for the love of their life should check it out.
    v best
    charlotte cory

  4. I definitely agree that mathematicians are not the opposite of artists. Sometimes I think we are actually artists, much more so than other scientists. We work in an abstract medium, we have rules about what processes to follow, and we evaluate work based on elegance, symmetry, and our notion of beauty in addition to factual correctness.

  5. " A mathematician, like a painter or poet, is a maker of patterns. If his patterns are more permanent than theirs, it is because they are made with ideas." - G H Hardy -A mathematician's apology.