If you are anything like me, you might find math to be an intimidating subject. But math and art have had a harmonious relationship for hundreds of years. There is a rich history between the two subjects that I find fascinating. It is a huge honor to have artist Michael Schultheis as my guest on the podcast this week. Michael didn’t start his career as an artist, but he has always been captivated by the beauty of mathematics. After starting a successful career working at Microsoft in Seattle, Michael was struck with the inspiration to teach himself how to become an artist. The catalyst for this change occurred while Michael was listening to Terry Gross interview an artist who encouraged people to make art from what they knew. That set things off for Michael and his journey of bringing the two worlds of mathematics and art together with his own spin.
Exciting ways art is being seen and felt
When an artist can connect with their audience on a level beyond the visual, something truly special has occurred. For many observers, this level beyond the visual is usually an emotional connection that resonates deeply. However, when I asked artist Michael Schultheis about his experience with audience engagement, I received a surprising response. He told me about two different but fascinating reactions he has received from his artwork. The first was a blind woman who requested to feel his work with her hands so she could “See” his painting. The second was a young boy who focused on the numbers and equations in the painting. Both individuals “Saw” Michael’s art on a level beyond most viewers.
How do you know when a painting is finished?
It’s always interesting to hear from various artists about how they can tell when they have completed their artwork. For Michael Schultheis, having spent so much of his career dealing with algorithms and equations, he wasn’t sure when to “Finish” his artwork. That all changed one day when he had a conversation with the talented artist and storyteller, Jacob Lawrence. Michael learned from Jacob and his wife Gwendolyn to approach each painting as an experiment. They encouraged him to; “Do his experiment and then let it go.” That advice resonated deeply with Michael and influenced how he approached his artwork.
Art and mathematics as storytelling
I’ll be honest and admit that when I think of mathematics, I don’t think of storytelling. My guest, Michael Schultheis has opened my eyes and has given me a new appreciation for the beautiful way that math and art intersect to tell a moving story. As an example, Michael tells the story of his parents. He describes how they met, their relationship’s ups and downs, and ultimately how they grew closer than ever toward the end of his father’s life. Michael tells their story and intersects mathematical and artistic concepts throughout. It is absolutely stunning how he is able to bring these concepts together in an engaging and relatable way.
Artistic Inspiration from Galileo to Leonardo da Vinci to Picasso and more!
A lot of the artist I get to interview have a great list of individuals who have influenced or inspired their work over the years. As I sat down with Michael Schultheis, I quickly found that it wasn’t just fellow artist that inspired him but also many notable mathematicians and great historical figures from long ago. He draws inspiration from the likes of Galileo to Leonardo da Vinci to Picasso and many others! Michael’s fascination with these figures is infectious, our conversation had me on the edge of my seat as he talked about these artists and mathematicians as mentors.
Outline of This Episode
- [0:36] Background of guest: Michael Schultheis.
- [2:30] How did Michael get started as an artist?
- [3:29] Finding beauty in mathematical equations.
- [7:40] Michael’s journey as a self-taught artist.
- [9:00] Each painting as an experiment.
- [11:40] The correlation between math and art.
- [17:20] Analytical Expressionism.
- [20:00] The stories Michael is telling with his art.
- [37:45] Michael talks about his parents.
- [41:00] What responses has Michael received about his painting?
- [43:15] What role does color play in Michael’s thought process?
- [44:00] Artist and Mathematicians who’ve influenced Michael.
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During our interview, Michael points to his paintings as he describes certain concepts and draws a few diagrams to better explain some of the concepts we discuss. I don’t usually use the video but this was a worthwhile exception.
Other artists mentioned on this episode
- Helen Frankenthaler
- Joan Mitchell
- Jacob Lawrence
- Ellsworth Kelly
- Jasper Johns
- Richard Serra
- Frank Stella
- Kazimir Malevich
- Aleksandr Rodchenko
- Vasily Kandinsky
- Josef Albers
- Galileo Galilei
- Étienne Bézout
- Piero della Francesca
- Leonardo da Vinci
- Pablo Picasso
- Sol LeWitt
- Cy Twombly
- Robert Rauschenberg
- Alejandro Guijarro
- Lynn Gamwell
- Albrecht Dürer
- Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky
- John Venn
- Johann Sebastian Bach
- Gwendolyn Clarine Knight
- Walter de Maria
- Charles Pierre Baudelaire
- Carl Jung
Resources Mentioned on this episode
- Michael’s Website: michaelschultheis.com
- BOOK: Mathematics and Art
- Podcast: Fresh Air with Terry Gross