Teacher's Toolbox: Jim Anthony – Engineering Art

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Can technology be a catalyst for art? Jim Anthony, Lecturer of Mathematics at Westminster College, certainly thinks so. He created a computer program that has been churning out dazzling artwork worthy of any showroom display.

Jim Anthony has been with Westminster since 2007 and currently serves as Lecturer in the Math / Computer Science Department.  He enjoys working with students on projects, and currently is assisting with a capstone project involving pebbling numbers of graphs. Interested in game theory, computer programming, and the use of technology in the classroom, he is a board game enthusiast with a current collection of around 600 games. 

Creating artwork might seem tangential from his daily schedule, but Anthony assured us that there is a beautiful congruence between art and technology.

AV: How are these amazing prints created?

Jim Anthony:  I wrote a computer program that generates the images using the following process:  Start with an initial point in the plane.  At each iteration, randomly select one function of a set of non-linear functions, not necessarily with equal probability. The selected function generates a new point by finding the weighted summation across a set of mostly non-linear functions.  Each function also has an associated color.  In an array of over 150 million elements, the average of the current pixel color and function color is stored.  There is also a histogram that stores the frequency with which each point has occurred during the iteration.  Super-sampling is then used to reduce these arrays to smaller arrays with less noise (isolated pixels or pixels of different colors next to each other) and to enhance image quality.  The brightness of each pixel is determined based on the histogram as well as the most frequently visited point.  This process is repeated, sometimes for hours based on the image size, until the image stabilizes. 

AV: Why focus on developing art?

Jim Anthony: I enjoy art but have limited ability when it comes to drawing and painting.  I find it fascinating that beautiful pieces of art can be generated through mathematics.  It is a rewarding experience to spend time creating the mathematical equations that eventually produce aesthetically pleasing images.  I also enjoy talking about the images with students.  It gives me the opportunity to show them a literal version of the beauty of mathematics. 
AV: The final products are striking. Do you have plans to display your works publicly?

Jim Anthony: Currently I am planning on displaying the pictures in my office and at my house.  When students visit my office for help, they sometimes comment on the mathematically generated artwork.  It is interesting to see the reaction students have when I tell them that the pictures are all based on mathematical equations.  The students are always surprised to discover that mathematics can be used to generate art. 

AV: How might this be integrated into a classroom setting?

Jim Anthony:  Students taking courses from Mathematical Perspectives to upper-level math classes could discuss or analyze various aspects of the process.  I would like to do a capstone project with both a math major and an art major, hopefully displaying their combined work at URAC, at a conference, or in a gallery.

AV: Are there other mediums that you might explore using similar mathematical methods?

Jim Anthony:  Mathematics can be used to describe any visual object, so there are many possibilities.  I would like to work with students to create both two and three-dimensional artwork using mathematics.

Technology and all of its mutations, rebellions, and consumption has been a subject of art for over a century. While not a new idea, using technology to generate artwork adds a twist that torments our fascinations with current technologies and how they work. As technologies like 3D printing become more main stream, we eagerly await the unveiling of more of Anthony's artwork and collaborations. They further illustrate how technology can bridge disciplines and create something breathtakingly innovative.
Teacher's Toolbox is an ongoing series which focuses on faculty and educational technology here at Westminster. To find out more about this subject, the Teacher's Toolbox series, or to recommend someone for a future edition, please email the Westminster College Audio Visual department at avstaff@westminster.edu

Jim Anthony, Lecturer of Mathematics at Westminster College

Click image to enlarge.

Click image to enlarge.