Jennifer Wilson

The work behind a wall of empty “graduation robe” boxes,
discarded after distribution to graduating Parsons seniors.

Meditation on Theorem of Pythagoras sits on the left wall as you enter Room 510 at 66 W.12th st.  It is one of a series of prints by Mel Bochner, all based on numbers—symbols arranged, like pebbles, to illustrate the very properties of the numbers they are composed of.  I referred to similar works in my recent “Making Math and Art ” class, to demonstrate how the interrelationship between integers (whole numbers) can be visualized.  Thus, a “square” number, such as 16, can be represented by arranging the numbers 1-16 in a 4×4 grid, filling out a square.  In Meditation, the squares 9, 16 and 25 are illustrated in this fashion around the three sides of a right triangle, reminding the viewer that the sentence “a2+ b2 = c2” was not, originally, an algebraic equation for a hypotenuse but a statement about the equality of (physical) squares.

I think about this every time I attend a faculty meeting.  I sit on the right side of the room, my face turned toward the left. I am listening to the discussion about curriculum or enrollment, but I am looking at Bochner and meditating on the properties of number and space.  I am thinking too, about a meeting a year ago when, arriving early, I introduced myself to a new faculty member.  After learning that I taught mathematics, she replied, offhand, “Oh. So you’re not in liberal arts then.”  The meeting began before I had to chance to allude to the quadrivium, or recall when the branches of mathematics (arithmetic and geometry) formed half of what it meant to be an educated person.  Long before sociology (her field) had even been defined.  Many people feel excluded by mathematics.  At The New School, we respond by excluding mathematics.  

Why, (as all mathematicians lament), do we rightly fight against illiteracy and yet proudly proclaim our innumeracy?  

Why do we privilege verbal discourse over symbolic?  

And how, at an institution whose new vision unites social sciences and design, and where the humanities fights for recognition, can mathematics find a place back at the academy?

Jennifer Wilson
Faculty, Eugene Lang College The New School for Liberal Arts