Spaces for Innovation

Combinatorial Creativity: Mathematics and the Arts Richly and Profoundly Integrated. . .

July 15th – 18th, 2014, I had the pleasure of attending “Mathematics at the Edge” a research symposium held at the University of British Columbia.



Working in collaboration, Simon Fraser University and the University of BC brought together engaging research exploring innovative learning in mathematics. Highlighted throughout the conference was the important synergy between research and education (particularly when students are at the core, enriching the research experience). As well, research with a focus on community engagement and exploration of critical issues that often reside at the “fringe” (social justice, definitions of knowledge, equity) offered interesting perspectives and application within mathematical learning and teaching contexts.

One of the most inspirational presentations was by Professor George W. Hart. Professor Hart (who’s daughter is ViHart–well known for her amazing Math videos shared on YouTube and twitter) shared examples of powerful learning that occurs when mathematics and art are richly and profoundly integrated.

 “Think of something mathematical, then try to find a way to represent it. When you embark upon this process, you can’t help but be guided by aesthetics and beauty—they are absolutely essential.” (Hart, 2014)

Behind George Hart’s art pieces are rich processes that scaffold the way in which these “objets d’art” evolve. Through a journey of wonder, fueled by curiosity and inquiry, the sculptures come to fruition through engagement of community and essential patterns of connectivity, as participants problematize how the sculptures might take form.

As I listened to Professor Hart share the thinking behind his fabulous artistic and mathematically complex creations, I was struck by the combinatorial qualities his work evokes. In “What Books Will Become”, Kevin Kelly writes

“We’ll come to understand that no work, no idea, stands alone, but that all good, true and beautiful things are networks, ecosystems of intertwingled parts, related entities and similar works.” ( Kelly, 2011)

The creative process which underpins Hart’s art forms, I would suggest, reflects our networked society and the way in which we co-construct and mobilize knowledge, finding new and exciting ways to understand and “read” the world.

 “…networked knowledge, like dot-connecting of the florilegium, and combinatorial creativity … is the essence of what Picasso and Paula Scher describe. The idea that in order for us to truly create and contribute to the world, we have to be able to connect countless dots, to cross-pollinate ideas from a wealth of disciplines, to combine and recombine these pieces and build new castles.” (Maria Popova)

I am inspired to think about the possibilities that George W. Hart’s body of work suggests for education, and will continue to explore and wonder,

“How might we imagine forward differently in our schools, in our mathematical learning and teaching, and consider the impact of rich and profound integration of mathematics and the arts?” (Steffensen, 2014)






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