Math is Art

I’ve always found something strangely fascinating about those blackboards or whiteboards with huge incomprehensible equations scrawled across them… But I have to face that although I passed calculus, it was by the skin of my teeth. I can catch glimpses of the beautiful, elegant thing that math is, like looking through curtains out into a moonlit garden. There’s a woman pacing there, and the shadows consume most of her. Only a curve, a gleam of light on a cheek, reveal the promise of a terrible, ineluctable being that drives the universe to its knees.

So there’s that. I’m a wordsmith, not a mathematician. I know what’s beautiful when I see it. I appreciate my friend’s jokes about math, and physics, even if I don’t know what the coefficient of fiction is until I’m told that it’s mu. I can make art, even if I can’t parse the equations.

Which is what I’ve been doing with fractal flames. I know there’s math there. But it’s like the magic smoke in my electronics. If you let it out, they don’t work any more. I just don’t think about what is really happening in there, the tiny electrons dancing and passing impulses back and forth, never moving and yet never at rest. I couldn’t tell you how to calculate the fractal. I can tell you that it’s beautiful.

Ashes of Roses

One of the things I love about this art media, aside from the digital-no-mess part, is the ability to create things that look organic. Fractals occur in nature, and so when I create them on the screen, they look…well, natural. Only not. Far more perfect than they have any right to be. Which can be uncanny if I’m not careful.


To keep the fractals from looking too perfectly made and shaped, I try to introduce some asymmetry, often by adjusting the perspective.

Lacework Skull


Other times, it’s the very symmetry of the work that makes it into something more than simply abstract light against darkness.


4 responses to “Math is Art”

  1. John in Philly Avatar
    John in Philly

    I still remember my attempts at higher math, the instructor said, “the first derivative,” and it was as if every higher function in my brain went on lunch break at the same time. Other tries were also failures.

    Does the fractal flame art start with your photo?

    1. No, the flames start with a blank canvas, as it were, of pixels 🙂 There’s a process of building each one, which i can do in three ways. I can follow a tutorial, as I did with the flower above, I can use parameters I’ve already generated for another project, and tweak them, or I can simply play with the ‘triangles’ (the program represents each flame with a triangle, and they interact. It gets incredibly complex) until I see something I like. Variations are near-infinite. I can use my photos, in one sense, in that I could extract a color gradient from one, and use it to ‘paint’ the fractal art.

      1. John in Philly Avatar
        John in Philly

        Then it is even more awesome than I thought it was.
        Thank you.

  2. Fractals are cool. They’re even pretty the way Cedar’s using them. They’re not as pretty when I’ve used them to create planets and clouds, though they’re still pretty darn neat.