June 17 – Happy Birthday, M. C. Escher!

Posted June 17, 2013

Why are there so many pictures by artist M. C. Escher in Harold Jacob's mathematics textbooks?

I personally have seen exactly zero pictures by Rembrandt, Leonardo da Vinci, or Claude Monet in a math textbook—and they were pretty good artists! What makes Escher so popular with math-textbook writers?

Escher's work is a great combination of mathematics and art. His art pieces explore mathematical concepts and stretch our minds in the process.

When Escher draws knights on horseback, they fit together in tessellations, which is a mathematical pattern that fits shapes together in a process like tiling. 

When he draws a boy looking at a piece of art, in the background of that piece of art...is a boy looking at a piece of art. The strange loops or infinite regressions that Escher created in his art speak about the mathematical concept of infinity. 

Escher also creates worlds that seem impossible—worlds in which water flows downhill but in a loop, worlds in which gravity pulls every which way, instead of only down, worlds in which ants walk forever along a Mobius strip.

Of course, the physics of the universe, it turns out, is stranger than we ever thought possible, so who knows what deep truths these “impossible” pictures hold for us. I will say that the impossible people walking upside-down and topsy-turvy look a lot like astronauts in space!

Check out the connection between math and Escher's art here.

Zoom in on the infinity of an Escher print here.

And enjoy the variety of Escher drawings and woodcuts here.

Also on this date:

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Check out my Pinterest pages on June holidayshistorical anniversaries in June, and June birthdays.

And here are my Pinterest pages on July holidayshistorical anniversaries in July, and July birthdays.

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