Last year we provided a submission to the Smith Review into post-16 mathematics, based on our experience running Fine Art Maths Centre for over 3 years. The five-page document is available here – it starts with some background on FAMC and then addresses the specific review questions.

Extracts:

If more students are to engage with mathematics beyond GCSE, there will have to be an offering that is relevant and appealing to them.

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Students have not been exposed to a sufficiently broad range of mathematics and have a too narrow conception of the subject and, crucially, what it means to be ‘good at’ mathematics (which can mean a mastery of a broad range of calculation-based techniques with very shallow understanding). Almost all of school mathematics material is at least three centuries old, which often becomes an issue when dealing with issues and ideas thrown up by the contemporary world and, of course, when attempting to work critically and creatively with modern technology.

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In particular, Art students lack familiarity with geometry and logic. Many would have benefited from being exposed to some ideas associated with modern mathematics; many find axiomatic systems and foundational questions appealing. A systematic study of geometry provides a foundation for thinking about and working with space that the disconnected fragments that remain on the GCSE syllabus do not provide.

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We believe that more exposure to logic, broadly conceived, and its place in programming, deduction and practical reasoning would benefit most HE students, especially (but not only) across the arts and humanities.

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We have found that, despite their absence from traditional curricula, the topics most relevant to art students often lie at the core of modern mathematics. Incorporating these topics in their study can bring multiple benefits: alongside domain-specific knowledge and technical skills, students learn transferrable skills in reasoning, problem-solving and abstract thought. They also learn what GCSE maths might not have taught them: that maths can be interesting and intellectually exciting, and is open to anyone.

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For arts and humanities students, we recommend a focus on geometry, logic, reasoning and mathematical ideas (e.g. infinity and the nature of the real numbers). These may not normally be considered under notions of numeracy and ‘quantitative skills’ but the general relevance of logic and forms of reasoning and axiomatics represent a very suitable compromise for post-16 study.

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We also note that such students often find the historical and philosophical background to some mathematical ideas helps them contextualise them and relate them to their other studies. This kind of material is usually conspicuously absent from existing pedagogical practice. Indeed, would-be artists and designers are currently being deprived of the intellectual underpinnings of important components of the history and culture of art and design. Euclidean geometry is central to Islamic design and Gothic architecture; projective geometry is intimately connected to linear perspective. No Home students appear familiar with these mathematical dimensions. Straightedge and compass constructions are touched on in GCSE mathematics but in deracinated and emaciated form. We also find that students who have been taught some ‘perspective’ only have a smattering of foreshortening techniques and no familiarity with the geometric principles underpinning Renaissance innovations in depiction. This is not always the case with international students.