Where’s the numeracy in the visual arts? 6 Sexy Solutions

Numeracy in the visual arts




Numeracy is everywhere in the visual arts

Some one asked me this recently. Here’s my response after a bit more thinking (and internet browsing):

1. Using and understanding measurement

This could involve measuring up a canvas, creating a border, or reading a plan.

2. Using and understanding location, distance, and directions

This could involve instructions on either a small or large scale, or use of grids or vectors for placing objects.

3. Using and understanding shape, size, scale, proportion, sequence and orientation in 2-D and 3-D

This covers just about all aspects of drawing, painting, and could encompass sculpture and computer-aided design as well.

4. Number relationships, patterns, and spatial awareness

Both maths and art are built around patterns and relationships between objects.

5. Developing pattern awareness and critical numeracy skills

Creating patterns involves counting, measuring, and sequencing in different ways.

6. Critical numeracy skills

Learners could engage in the deconstruction of media texts, or discuss how they make decisions about everyday issues relating to content which involve mathematical concepts.

Some further, deeper discussion on art and maths

Art captures our imagination and allows us to see the world in ways that we normally wouldn’t. How does math make this happen? Let’s look at some examples:




visual arts

Take the Rothko paintings, for example. Their use of colour is very important in creating a sense of emotion, but so is their layout on the canvas. You might see one that has three rectangles and two squares, which adds up to five elements.

But when you look at one of these paintings, it doesn’t feel like there are five elements, for example. Instead, you see only what’s depicted in the painting – nothing else. The mind is very good at filling in gaps and we perceive a single scene instead of focusing on individual components.

This is also true for these paintings by M.C. Escher, a famous artist who played with architecture and perception

Note how the images in these drawings are very carefully arranged to create a sense of infinity, even though they’re bounded on all sides. This is done by using mirroring and repeating elements such as staircases and trees.

In this drawing, you’ll see the same elements repeated in inverted forms. This makes us perceive a singular scene rather than a complex drawing with multiple parts.




It’s all very rich in terms of maths and numeracy. I’d love someone to expand on this further.

If you want a couple of short easy-to-digest books on Learner Centred Teaching that were written by me – a human, then I suggest these:

Author: Graeme Smith

Education, technology, design. Also making cool stuff...

4 thoughts

  1. Be interesting to see what you get. I find the notion of mathematical beauty really interesting – I.e the golden ratio, Fibonacci etc. Particularly how faces, we as a culture tend to view as beautiful, have distinct proportions, and how people will point to a perfect rectangle (golden ratio) by sight out of a selection of random ratios.

    Not that visual artist need this stuff but there are algorithms that can create beauty. But yuck, that’s a bit like a computer algorithm writing a beautiful poem or a classic song. No soul!

    I imagine they simply have a great eye for space, colour and aesthetics. But highly likely they are contractors and as such need all the skills of an entrepreneur.

    Anyway – clearly I have trolled this post. Back to the writing!

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