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Math in Art



Medium + Artist = Art
China<br><i>Jade Mountain Illustrating the Gathering of Poets at the Lan T'ing Pavilion</i>, 1784 <br>Jade (nephrite)<br>Minneapolis Institute of Arts<br> The John R. Van Derlip Fund and gift of the Thomas Barlow Walker Foundation
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Jade Mountain Illustrating the Gathering of Poets at the Lan T'ing Pavilion, 1784
Jade (nephrite)
Minneapolis Institute of Arts
The John R. Van Derlip Fund and gift of the Thomas Barlow Walker Foundation

 

Whether they know it or not, artists use math in every work of art they create. To make drawings, sculptures, paintings, and textiles, they must add or subtract art materials. Applying paint to a canvas is an example of the additive process. So is weaving fibers together into a textile. An example of the subtractive process is carving wood or stone, as in the Chinese Jade Mountain sculpture, shown here, which was made in 1784 for the Chi’en-lung emperor.

The Chinese imported jade from the lands that are now Afghanistan, Tibet, Burma, and Siberia, where rocks containing jade were found in streams and mountains. Extracting the precious mineral without the use of modern machinery was very difficult, and it then had to be transported over long distances.

Jade is so tough and hard that it must be carved by grinding it with an even harder substance, such as quartz dust. By grinding and polishing, the maker of the Jade Mountain subtracted areas from this large stone to create intricate details like the figures of the poets, the wine cups floating downstream, and poetry by the famous calligrapher Wang Hsi-chi and the Chi’en-lung emperor himself.


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1. Picasso was one of the first artists to create sculpture by adding objects together in a process called assemblage. Try to identify the “found” objects he assembled in this monkey.
Pablo Picasso, Baboon and Young, 1951, bronze, Minneapolis Institute of Arts, gift of funds from the John Cowles Foundation
2. Many separate pieces of blown glass were added together to form this sculpture by Dale Chihuly.
Dale Chihuly, Sunburst, 1999, blown glass, neon, metal armature, Minneapolis Institute of Arts, gift of funds from Cargill and Donna MacMillan
3. Both additive and subtractive processes were used in making this figure from the Kongo culture in Africa. Each added nail stands for a binding promise.
Kongo people, Democratic Republic of Congo, Nkisi Nkonde, late 19th century, wood, natural fibers, nails, Minneapolis Institute of Arts, The Christina N. and Swan J. Turnblad Memorial Fund

 

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March 2010