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Exploring the Theoretical Through Painting


After taking Real Analysis with Professor of Mathematics Robert Kantrowitz '82 last fall, a new and infinitely large world opened up for Lizz Spangenthal ’18. In the class Spangenthal learned about Cantor’s Theorem, a theory developed by German mathematician Georg Cantor, the inventor of set theory.

As Spangenthal explained, Cantor’s Theorem states that some infinities are larger than other infinities and that there are an infinite number of infinities. It is from here — from Cantor and his groundbreaking work — that Spangenthal first conceived of her 2017 Emerson Grant proposal.

As both a studio art and mathematics concentrator, Spangenthal has found qualities within both of her two majors that complement the other, drawing, for example, on heavily visual mechanisms for understanding certain elements of mathematics. In this way, Spangenthal applies her learning wrought from the tangible messiness of the painting studio to the abstract sphere of mathematics. Her Emerson, though, seeks to do the opposite.

In her project, Infinity in a Finite Space: Visual Representations of Cantor’s Theorem, Spangenthal provides a visual translation of the theoretical, exploring theories of and relating to infinity and representing these concepts on a canvas, using oil paint.

After first learning about Cantor’s Theorem, now her favorite mathematical theorem, Spangenthal was inspired to paint about the topic in her advanced painting course, drawing successfully, as many artists previously have, on infinity as a primary subject.

 Ultimately, though, Spangenthal believed the work she produced in advanced painting could benefit from more time, and was thus prompted to pursue an Emerson. “My ultimate desire for this project is to merge these two concentrations and create a greater understanding among people who are both familiar and unfamiliar with Cantor and his work,” said Spangenthal.                                                                                                       

about lizz spangenthal '18

Majors: Studio Art and Mathematics

Hometown: Williamsville, N.Y.

High School: Williamsville South High School

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After a semester spent abroad in a Japanese-language program, during which she was neither able to study oil-painting nor mathematics in a classroom setting, Spangenthal is excited to be back on campus to begin work with her advisor, Professor of Art Katharine Kuharic.

In addition to a thorough review of her Real Analysis notes, Spangenthal plans to collect a comprehensive mélange of artistic inspiration, drawing upon the work of infinity-inspired Yayoi Kusama and sculptor Alyson Shotz. After taking notes and creating preliminary compositional sketches, Spangenthal will strive to defy logic, inducing the infinite to bow to the finite world of canvas.

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