Art recommendations for a gift to a math student?
November 13, 2016 1:06 AM   Subscribe

My boyfriend's birthday is approaching and I want to get him a piece/a series of art to hang in his almost entirely blank room - he does appreciate art, just doesn't go out of his way to collect adornments of any kind. He's deeply interested in computer science and pure math and I have very little background in either. I'd like to select a work that resonates with him, that he can admire compositionally and that in some way reflects the concepts that he studies. <

We go to museums together occasionally, which he always enjoys, but he doesn't have a favorite artist or period. In general, he likes very simple, well crafted things. And the color green.

I think something abstract would be ideal. I suppose I'm imagining an illustration of a concept, but, as this is not my background, I don't know what illustrations of what concepts are particularly visually pleasing and also particularly relevant.

Pointers in any direction would be greatly appreciated.
posted by reedfields to Media & Arts (25 answers total) 17 users marked this as a favorite
posted by the latin mouse at 1:16 AM on November 13, 2016 [4 favorites]

This vintage style map of the mandelbrot set is rather nice.

another rich vein of potentially interesting mathematical imagery is plotter pen art.
posted by Jon Mitchell at 1:33 AM on November 13, 2016 [4 favorites]

Check with cortex for variations on the Menger Sponge.
posted by bendy at 1:37 AM on November 13, 2016

Can you tell us his subfield?

I don't know of existing items for sale, but if he were doing number theory I would get a print of the golden spiral (ratios, phi); if it were something statistics, a nice chart of statistical distributions; if it were computer graphics, I'd get a print of the girl in the hat that shows up in textbooks. If it's algorithms, maybe a keenly balanced mobile? I may be thinking too literally - I have a degree in math / cs but do not put it (or anything much) on my walls.

Escher is a really good bet.
posted by batter_my_heart at 1:54 AM on November 13, 2016

Mathematica Posters have some great abstract shapes.
posted by Phssthpok at 2:36 AM on November 13, 2016 [1 favorite]

check out Amanda Knowles' work:
it has a math/science themes, but abstracted. I have a piece by her in my bedroom that I still love after 10 years.
posted by NickPeters at 3:52 AM on November 13, 2016

A Klein Bottle is a 3d version of a mobius strip. I know a few mathematicians who have one on their desk.

My mathematical sweetheart wants a print of a Lehmer Sieve.
posted by entropone at 5:08 AM on November 13, 2016

Maybe a print of an abstract artist like Kandinsky would work, as well as directly math-referencing things
posted by thelonius at 6:11 AM on November 13, 2016

I'm a physicist. The part of my brain that enjoys mathematical structures also appreciates the geometric work of Sol LeWitt. I find his combinatoric wall drawings are particularly fascinating, though they may not translate well into a print that one could hang on a wall.
posted by Johnny Assay at 6:29 AM on November 13, 2016 [2 favorites]

(Oh, and if you're in driving distance of New England, your BF would love to visit the Sol LeWitt wall drawing installation at the MA Museum of Contemporary Art in North Adams, MA.)
posted by Johnny Assay at 6:32 AM on November 13, 2016 [1 favorite]

A Klein Bottle is a 3d version of a mobius strip. I know a few mathematicians who have one on their desk.

They're available from the charmingly-old school website of ACME Klein Bottle.
posted by Johnny Assay at 6:42 AM on November 13, 2016 [1 favorite]

if it were computer graphics, I'd get a print of the girl in the hat that shows up in textbooks

Lenna? I'm not sure everyone wants an early 70s Playboy centerfold for wall art. How about a nice Utah teapot instead?
posted by zamboni at 7:28 AM on November 13, 2016

My first thought was that you should check out Scott Burns' work. He is a (now) retired engineering professor who creates amazing art images from algorithms.
posted by DrGail at 7:46 AM on November 13, 2016 [1 favorite]

This is not quite hang-on-the-wall art, but does he like metal puzzles? It's nice to have a few of them lying around, sort of knick-knacks -- something to fiddle with when rolling over a problem.
posted by miniraptor at 8:47 AM on November 13, 2016

My dad did a series of math-related posters for his department a couple of years ago. If you'd like, memail me and I can see if there's an extra one or two hanging around.
posted by sciencegeek at 9:18 AM on November 13, 2016

many of the artists at ghostly have maths influences. i personally own a print(? implementation?) of drift #3 which is computer-generated, using a pen on paper.

for me, at least, art is very personal (my partner, who knows me better than anyone, pretty much sucks at buying me art). also, imho, algorithmic / mathematical art needs to try quite hard to avoid being mundane and automatic. so i think your plan is perhaps a little ambitious...
posted by andrewcooke at 9:25 AM on November 13, 2016

Definitely seconding Sol LeWitt. Some other stray ideas:

A print of the Ulam spiral, if he likes number theory.

I work in a department with lots of people who study polytopes, which is just about perfect from a design perspective. You could look into polyhedral sculptures - something like this, and they have a lot of other designs if you scroll down, & it even looks like that site does custom 3d printing stuff.

Not sure how into this you'd be, but from your description it struck me that if you're so inclined, you could probably make something for him pretty easily. For example, something aesthetically pleasing from Wikipedia's gallery of named graphs would probably be simple to recreate.
posted by nvvd at 9:41 AM on November 13, 2016

I really like Eli Maor's work. See "Beautiful Geometry". If I were to buy his prints, I'd get a set of three to hang on two walls of a room.

He's a math professor. The work is not only beautiful, it has mathematical purpose and integrity.
posted by valannc at 9:56 AM on November 13, 2016

How about a mathematical sculpture? Here's a Calabi Yau manifold. There's lots more on that site.
posted by monotreme at 12:06 PM on November 13, 2016

My brother is a math and science guy, a framed print of this Einstein quotation was a hit:

“Do not worry about your difficulties in Mathematics. I can assure you mine are still greater.”
posted by raider at 4:10 PM on November 13, 2016

Henry Segerman makes all sorts of interesting mathematical art.

Anatolii Fomenko's book Mathematical Impressions is high on my own wishlist. I'm not sure whether it's possible to buy prints of his work.
posted by yarntheory at 4:32 PM on November 13, 2016

Hiroshi Sugimoto did a gorgeous series of photographs of antique plaster casts of mathematical forms. I don't think it'd be easy to purchase a print, but there is a book.
posted by hydrophonic at 6:39 PM on November 13, 2016

George Hart is an artist (and father of Vi Hart). They both attend the Bridges math and art conference ( The conference site has information and papers from previous conferences, probably including links to artist's websites.
posted by azalea_chant at 7:54 PM on November 13, 2016

As a mathematician who also likes simple well-crafted things, I've always wanted a Gömböc. (See: for a shop, and for the maths.) They're pricey (which is why I am still in the "want" stage and not in the "have" stage,) but beautiful.
posted by Chionophilia at 7:55 PM on November 13, 2016

I'm really late to the game, but I came in to highly recommend Rafael Araujo.
posted by onecircleaday at 10:42 AM on December 24, 2016

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