Department of Mathematics and Statistics

Department of Mathematics and Statistics
Department of Mathematics and Statistics

Department Colloquium

Bill Ralph (Brock University)

Friday, February 14th, 2020

Time: 2:30 p.m.  Place: Jeffery Hall 128

Speaker: Bill Ralph (Brock University)

Title: Can Mathematics Recognize Great Art?

Abstract: Is there an objective truth hiding within great works of art that only mathematics can detect? In this talk, I'll present evidence for a mathematical aesthetic shared by many great artists across the centuries. We'll look at several striking works of art by artists ranging from Tintoretto to Picasso and use a new statistic to see that they are creating bell curves with their brushes. I’ll also show some of my own attempts to create visual art based on a variety of mathematically oriented techniques. Examples of my work can be viewed at

Bill Ralph is in the Faculty of Mathematics and Statistics at Brock University. His mathematical research began in algebraic topology with the study of exotic homology and cohomology theories and their connections with Banach Algebras. After that, he developed a transfer for finite group actions and studied a number that appears in the transfer that he calls the "coherence number" of the group. Lately, he has also been using the Hausdorff dimension of the orbits of dynamical systems to generate mathematical art. The following is an excerpt from the curator's notes from Prof. Ralph's Rodman Hall Museum show:
It is perhaps not surprising that some of the images have a painterly feel to them since the mixing of paint on the palette and the action of the brush on a surface are both processes that can be modeled as chaotic dynamical systems. In a sense, each image is a window into the intersection of the two great universes of mathematics and fine art.