Maths and Art - making connections

Thanks to Caroline Clissold for this month's maths blog which explores at maths across the curriculum and suggests activities to connect maths and art.

Last month we considered how to plan mathematical activities with a geography flavour. In this blog we will explore mathematical links with art. All art is mathematical so making up activities that enable the children to use and apply the skills and understanding they have achieved in their mathematics lessons is quite straightforward.

I often develop activities with a storyline because children really like stories where they have to help someone out. One I use regularly is about Mr Art Istik. He is opening an art gallery in a few weeks. Unfortunately, last night his gallery was broken into and some of his most valuable works of art have been stolen.

He would like the children to help him by producing their own versions of these artists’ work so that he can hang them in his gallery while the police are trying to recover the originals. Due to copyright they can’t look exactly the same, so they need to be the children’s own designs with a flavour of the artists’ work.

The first that he would like them to work on is Kandinsky’s Composition VIII.

Give the children a potted history of Kandinsky, maybe drawing a time line to plot his birth, death and other significant times in history that the class have studied or that are pertinent to the children themselves. You could work out how long he lived, how long ago he died, how long before the children’s births he was born using a counting on strategy on the time line.

Next explore the painting – what mathematics can they see? Ideas to rehearse or introduce could include:
•    types of triangles and quadrilaterals
•    acute/obtuse/right angles
•    perpendicular and parallel lines
•    concentric circles

Focus on one of those areas, for example angles, and then ask the children to make a version of a Kandinsky using acute and obtuse angles, estimating and, if appropriate, measuring them as they go along and then add a selection of colourful quadrilaterals or triangles.

Mr Art Istik, being very pleased with what the children produced, would like them to make their own version of another famous painting that was taken, Mondrian’s Komposition.

Again, it is important to give information about this artist and to repeat the time line activity as for Kandinsky. Next discuss the mathematics of the painting, for example, rectangles, area and perimeter, right angles and fractions.

I have asked children in years 3 and 4 to cut up a copy of the painting so that they have separate squares and oblongs and then to explore all the fractions they can find. It was a great investigation and led the children into a more concrete and complex understanding of fractions than I would have believed. They were finding how many of the smaller pieces would fit into the larger ones and saying such things as ‘I can fit eight of these into this shape so this must be 1/8 of this shape’, ‘I’ve found twelfths!’, ‘I can get seven of these in this shape, so I have made sevenths and three of them are the same as this so this must be 3/7 of the bigger shape’.

I then asked them to make their own version of his painting by arranging all the pieces to make a pattern with one line of symmetry. We did a practical session on symmetry before they did this and the results were great!

So, two paintings completed for Mr Art Istik. He next wanted them to do a version of a Picasso painting. Again we looked at a potted history of the artist and discovered that, in one of his ‘periods’ he used to make still life displays and paint them as shapes. So the children made up still life displays from items around the classroom, looked at them in terms of the shapes they could see and drew and painted them. Some went on to rotate them as in the examples below.

You could easily apply this idea to reflection and translation.

Finally, Mr Art Istik needed a sculpture or two to replace his stolen Barbara Hepworth’s! Following a similar introduction, the children then explored 3D shapes. They made a sphere out of plasticine, discussed its properties, what it can do and where in real life they would see one, for example, a sphere has a curved surface, if you cut it in half you would make a hemisphere which has a circular face. This gave the opportunity to talk about circles. They then changed the sphere to a cube, discussed its properties, 6 faces, 12 edges and 8 vertices. The children worked out what is needed to give edges (two faces meeting) and vertices (three or more edges meeting). We considered the faces which are all regular rectangles called squares. This led to a discussion of what a rectangle is: any shape with four sides and four right angles.

They then made a cuboid, cylinder, cone and pyramid each time discussing what they are doing to make the new shape and exploring each new shape’s properties, including those of their faces. We talked about the fact that a cone can’t have a vertex because there are no edges meeting. Its point is an apex.

They visualised what the pyramid would look like opened up and sketched this so making a net. They cut out their net, made the pyramid and talked about what would make it more accurate. They then made another measuring carefully to ensure the square was in fact a square and the triangles were all the same size and shape.

They did the same for a cube, cuboid and other shapes such as a triangular prism. They worked in small groups and once they had made a few 3D shapes they put them together to make a sculpture and, of course, they had to give it a name.

After they supplied Art with all the art work to fill his gallery (and make some great displays for the classroom) they went on to help the police find the stolen items and the culprits, this involved measuring footprints which were found at the scene and working out the height of the suspects using body ratios, they were given maps and found routes from the gallery to possible hiding places so using direction and coordinates. Happily at the end of the project the paintings were recovered, the culprits caught – and the children had a great time, learned about different artists and also different aspects of mathematics – which they remembered! I would recommend anyone to have a go at this and to be amazed at what mathematical thinking and enthusiasm for the great artists can come from it.

If you have carried out any activities linking mathematics and art, please let us know. We would love to share your ideas. Email or tweet us!




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