Perspective by the Numbers as Art Appreciation

One of the best types of art appreciation course is a straight-up studio course in painting, drawing, or sculpture. Even a few lessons can provide a better grasp of the talent and discipline that go into the artwork we see in galleries and museums. But what about the contemporary art we see in movie theaters? More and more of what we see on the movie screen is computer-generated imagery (CGI), including entire films by the big animation studios such as Pixar, DreamWorks, and Industrial Light & Magic. Are there art appreciation lessons for this type of art?

It so happens there are. While a complete understanding requires a fairly advanced knowledge of mathematics and computer graphics, a good grasp of the basics requires only elementary mathematics and access to computer spreadsheet software. Annalisa Crannell and I devote a chapter to this in Viewpoints: Mathematical Perspective and Fractal Geometry in Art. One of my students, Tia, chose this medium for her final project. Although Tia was a biology major, you can see from the samples below that she was able to design a nice mathematical model of a lamp and lampshade, and use a spreadsheet to visualize them from any angle.

Part of a student’s final project

Tia’s project included multiple, hand-colored drawings made from scatter plots she generated in Microsoft Excel. This hybrid approach gives a good feel for the power of computers in 3-D imagery, without losing the connection between the relevant mathematics and the final artwork. The quality of her images underscores an important advantage of doing perspective by the numbers like this. Namely, it acts as a kind of safety net for people who lack talent or confidence in drawing, allowing them to make images that art majors would be equally proud of.


Marc Frantz holds a BFA in painting from the Herron School of Art and an MS in mathematics from Purdue University. He teaches mathematics at Indiana University, Bloomington where he is a research associate.



This is the fourth in a series of blog postings from the authors of Viewpoints: Mathematical Perspective and Fractal Geometry in Art.

This post is part of a series, explore additional posts here<< Nature’s GeometryTaking Heart, Making Art >>