The Relationship Between Math and Art: Robert Indiana

robert indiana sculptureAt the Indianapolis Museum of Art, Robert Indiana’s colorful “Numbers One Through Zero” sculptures, while at first seeming to be merely graphic and fun, make the viewer stop and think: why numbers? Why like this? Why these colors, this size, this arrangement?

According to Indiana, “each [number is] loaded with multiple references and significances.” His fascination with numbers, which led to the creation of multiple “Numbers” sculpture series, stems from Indiana’s “long-held fascination with the power of numbers,” ignited by the “formative experience” of moving often throughout his childhood and adolescence, and “the variety of meanings and associations that numbers can generate,” both at personal and societal levels (

In “Numbers One Through Zero” each number is associated with a different phase in Indiana’s life and the color combinations used serve to reinforce his personal timeline. Indiana originally arranged the numbers from 1 to 0, rather than the more commonly seen 0-1, because for him, 1 represents birth and 0 represents death. The sculptures have not always been arranged in this way, however, nor are they in this sequence now. They have been part of many outdoor exhibitions in cities such as New York and London, and the sculptures were actually spread around Indianapolis for quite a time before the entire piece came together at the Indianapolis Museum of Art where it was first displayed in 1992. Currently, the sculptures are arranged in a sequence to represent milestones in the artist’s life:

41- Pearl Harbor took place while I lived in Indianapolis

29- The crash which I experienced as a child on the East Side

50- Suggesting in part my hometown’s most famous institution: the last zero lost on a fast curve

76- The United States birthday every hundred years

38- My father worked for many years on this street (

The museum’s “Numbers” series is the original set, but since 1980, Indiana’s fascination with numbers has continued and he has created many more series in various sizes and materials. What numerical associations have you created throughout your lifetime?


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A Cool Old Canal and a Modern Bridge Marvel


Corinth Canal

Hello there – are you enjoying summer break?

I just went to Greece; it was really great!

I saw the old human-made Corinth Canal ridges

Near where the new constructed Rio-Antirrio bridge is.


Architects are masters of geometry;

Cable triangles like ship sails imagine moving free.

Construction was hard and took years to be right

The team pulled it off – what an awesome sight!


Notice the four posts in the water below,

But the hundreds of cables dominate the show.

They support the entire bridge, holding it steady.

The Olympic torch crossing celebrated being ready.


The Corinth Canal was built in 1881, but many people had tried to build it before, starting all the way back in the 7th century BCE. The Rio-Antirrio Bridge is the world’s longest fully-suspended bridge. The bridge opened on August 7, 2004 as the Olympic torch crossed en route to Athens to open the 2004 Athens Summer Olympics.

rio-antirrio bridge

Rio Antirrio Bridge


Corinth Canal photo credit:

Rio Antirrio Bridge photo credit: Rebecca Klemm

A Mysterious Greek Box

hexagonal box greeceHey there, kids! Come, gather ’round,

Learn about things long lost in the ground.

I have lots of stories from my travels in Greece,

And pictures, too, that you’ll think are real neat.


In ancient Greece, the people took care

To decorate everything, and leave nothing bare

Because they loved beauty, in all of its forms.

Take this box, for example; see how well it’s adorned!


Look at it closely, it’s thousands years old,

Would you have known that if you hadn’t been told?

The carvings are gold, each the same as the next.

If carved by hand, after each one you’d rest!



In this hexagon box, with its six paneled sides,

I wonder what treasures were buried inside!

What’s it called, this box based on six?

It was a medicine box; the Greek word: “pyxis.”


It’s been through a lot – it was buried underground.

We’re very lucky that it was eventually found!

The world’s full of history and awesome sites to see.

I hope you travel soon, but ’til then, follow me!

Greek Hexagon Box: Can You Tell When This Was Made?

hexagonal box greeceAlthough Greece was established over 2500 years ago, the resemblance between some ancient artifacts and modern items is uncanny. For example, look at this box – would you believe it is thousands of years old?

While in Athens, I visited the National Archeological Museum and saw many very interesting historical artifacts. One of the most intricate and impressive pieces of history I saw was this box made of wood and gold. The box, also known as a pyxis, or small medicinal box, is a hexagonal prism in form, with matching engravings on each of the six sides depicting deer being attacked by lions. The exact symmetry of these engravings is phenomenal, especially when considering that each intricate line and detail was carved by hand! The amount of effort required to create such an item makes me wonder whether the shape had a special meaning in ancient Greece.

This small piece of history is another wonderful example of how the world is full of arithmetic and provides a great opportunity to discuss the ancient and enduring relationship between geometry, art, and history.

The Relationship Between Art and Math: Intentional or Unavoidable?

At a glance, art and math are at very different ends of the subject spectrum. However, upon closer inspection it becomes clear that they truly go hand in hand. At the most fundamental, math is found in art in every line, angle, shape, form, dimension, and pattern. Without even thinking about it, artists use math every time they pick up their paintbrush, pencil, clay – whatever medium they choose. Even if artists are free-handing, they are subconsciously measuring and calculating as they work. There are clear standard dimensions for a face, for example; the eyes have to be a certain distance apart, and within a certain distance from the chin. These measurements may not be precise, but they are a form of applied mathematics. Although rarely emphasized or taught explicitly in school, math is integral to and inseparable from art, and art brings math from the abstract to a visual format. For visual learners, art could be a valuable tool in learning how math can be applied in the real world.

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