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Arts Week Explores Where Art Meets Science
Arts Week Explores Where Art Meets Science

What’s intriguing about the polynomial equation (2z^4+0.z^3+z^2+6z)(3z^4+2z^+z+2), other than the process for solving it?

According to Dr. Bahman Kalantari, a professor in the Department of Computer Science at Rutgers University, it’s the fact that the mathematical expression can be used to create visually arresting images “using the mathematical convergence properties of iteration functions.” Or — put simply — beautiful artwork.

Kalantari is the creator of polynomiography, algorithmic visualizations of one of the most basic and fundamental tasks in science and math: solving a polynomial equation.

“Polynomiography connects art, mathematics, science and technology,” Kalantari told a morning assembly of Upper School students on Wednesday, Jan. 27. “It’s a game of hide-and-seek with a bunch of dots on a painting canvas.”

Through computer software called Poly-Z-Vision, Kalantari can input a polynomial equation, run the program and produce simple to complex designs, symmetrical or asymmetrical, two-dimensional or 3D, on a computer screen.

“You can make images that you can’t really tell how they were generated,” he said, “creating wonderful pictures by design or by accident.” Kalantari showed polynomiographic images alongside great works by Klee, Picasso, Klimt and Sol DeWitt, and the resemblances were striking.

Kalantari’s goal in promoting polynomiography is to better engage students in learning math.

“It beautifies mathematics, it connects students to the subject, and it inspires students … to ask questions that are deep. It’s a way of teaching. An equation that is abstract and maybe meaningless becomes something lively,” Kalantari said.
Kalantari’s presentation was part of Arts Week in the Upper School, which, this year, focuses on the intersection of mathematics, science and visual arts.

Planned earlier in the week were visits from two women speaking on the place of art in science, but due to inclement weather, their visits will be rescheduled.  Dr. Iman Martin ’99, an epidemiologist and an officer in the elite Epidemic Intelligence Service of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), was to speak on the place of art in the Ebola response; and Rebecca Kamen, a sculptor (see some of her work here), was to lecture on the intersection of art and science in her work. 

The Upper School invited two additional lecturers to campus for Arts Week as well. On Wednesday at lunch, Adenike Webb introduced students to her work as a music therapist. Webb provides group and individual music therapy interventions to children and adolescents with emotional and behavioral disorders in an in-patient setting. Friday, Dr. Jonathan Wallis, an art history professor at Moore College of Art & Design, will lecture on the history of surrealism. Wallis has been a popular speaker at Agnes Irwin in past years, last year speaking on “Illusion vs. Abstraction: Changing Ideas about Visual Representations.”

Throughout Arts Week, students also lead art workshops during lunch periods, including improv and stamp-making workshops and a “music jam" with music teacher Jerry Kapral. 

For more than a dozen years, Agnes Irwin has dedicated one week in spring to learning about, participating in and celebrating written, visual and performing arts. The week is organized by the student-led Arts Board and faculty.