The Aesthetic Beauty of Math

Karen Olsson at The Paris Review:

Many ideas on a blackboard

Trying to explain my work to a non-mathematician, he wrote, would be like trying to explain a symphony to someone who can’t hear. Later he would rely on another metaphor, calling math “art in a hard material.”

Mathematics is an artistic endeavor, his words suggest. Yet Simone was skeptical. What kind of art? What is the material? Even poets have language, but your work seems to rely on sheer abstraction, she wrote her brother.

That math is an art, that one of its signature qualities is its beauty—these are ideas that continue to be articulated by mathematicians, even as non-mathematicians may wonder, as Simone did, what that could possibly mean. I myself become wary when a mathematician or scientist speaks about the beauty of her discipline, since it can seem vague and high-handed, if not wrong.

more here.