An opening essay

Visual Mathematics:
A missing link in a Split Culture

A historic survey on the relationships
between mathematics and the visual art,
with some additional notes on the
"brave new computer world"


Dénes Nagy

This essay is dedicated to Slavik Jablan, the co-editor of this journal, who defies all of the difficulties and helps the birth of this new journal. Since we hope that Visual Mathematics will become a forum for both mathematicians and visual artists, we target a broad audience by this survey and do not include technical details. Let us have a dialogue between mathematics and art...


We have just one culture although this is split into two "hemispheres": art and the humanities versus science and technology. Both hemispheres include further regions. Obviously, we need some links between the two "hemispheres of culture", as the corpus callosum connects the two main parts of the human brain. The main goal of the International Society for the Interdisciplinary Study of Symmetry (ISIS-Symmetry) is to provide a "symmetric bridge" between art and science (also hoping that goddess Isis, nomen est omen, may help us). The Society's main forums

- the triennial congress and exhibition (Budapest, 1989; Hiroshima, 1992; Washington, D.C., 1995; Haifa, 1998; Sydney, 2001; etc.),

- the printed journal Symmetry: Art and Science (earlier Symmetry: Culture and Science, 1990-), and

- the new electronic journal Visual Mathematics, which supplements the printed one, would like to help the dialogue between the two "hemispheres".

Earlier Charles P. Snow, who later became Lord Charles, suggestively described the problem of science versus art and he referred to this problem as "two cultures". In the opening address of the First Interdisciplinary Symmetry Congress and Exhibition (Budapest, 1989) and in the "Manifesto on (dis)symmetry" (Symmetry: Culture and Science, Vol. 1, No. 1, 1990), however, I did not use his term, but suggested speaking about "split culture". I still believe that, despite the tendency of separation, it is more fortunate to emphasize the unity of culture. We have just one culture... On the other hand, this culture may have various "flavors" in East and West, North and South. For example, various works on ethnomathematics demonstrated that although the results of mathematics are "universal", the style of thinking, the preferred methods of education could be very different. Indeed, ISIS-Symmetry has a special interest in linking not only the scholarly, but also geographical regions.

Turning to the title of this new electronic journal:

- the visual aspects of mathematics and

- the mathematical connections of visual art

may provide a "bridge" between the two hemispheres. Let us see some further ideas behind this title:


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