I suck at math. Growing up I was never the least bit interested in it, which didn’t bode well for me ever being good at it. Blame it on the school system for never (or not soon enough) furnishing us with energetic math teachers, or blame it on my right brain propensity for words, images and stories. Or just blame it on me giving up way too early. The fact is, I don’t remember a single time I ever enjoyed math class. I even remember not being all that wowed at those interactive kids museums that all the other kids seemed to love. You know the ones where they had exhibitions that tried to show math in action, math in real life? You know, the ones that tried to show how math could be fun? If anything, they made me more suspicious. “I see what you’re trying to do here. You’re trying to make math fun. Well it won’t work because I know better.” That generally was and, I’m sorry to admit, is my attitude toward math.
Until last night. (Actually, that’s a bit dramatic. My attitude hasn’t changed that drastically, but it has changed a little.)
Poor Luke. As the maths guy in our small family, he often has bursts of intellectual discovery of the mathematical variety and is just brimming over afterwards wanting to describe it to me. But unfortunately, as soon as that kind of talk enters the room, my survival instincts kick in and I shut down. Try as I might to stay with him — attempt to ask some intelligent question or some such — before long my eyes glaze over and I withdraw. So it was really quite brave of him to suggest we watch a documentary about origami last night, which he admitted, would probably have a math angle. And if I do say so myself, it was really rather brave of me to concede to watching it.
Origami really is pretty mathy when you come down to it. And yet, I find that it’s a visual representation of geometry and physics that’s distracting and disarming enough that you can talk to me about mathematical theories and I don’t want to run out of the room. I’m so distracted by the process and the final product, that I’m not thinking “math is bad, math is evil.” I’m just admiring this crinkly, light-flooded piece of paper and marveling at the life of the character that has emerged from its folds.
In the documentary Between the Folds, writer Vanessa Gould interviews some of the most brilliant artists and theorists (yes, that exists) in the origami community, all of whom seem to have multiple degrees in physics or math. They all get going in their equations and dimensions speak, but, they are definitely artists and their creative energy is palpable. I can latch onto that. I get that.
What do you think: Have you seen this documentary? Have you ever tried your hand at origami? I highly recommend Between the Folds, if you find yourself in the mood for documentary-watcing. Knowledge or interest of complicated math not required. You can watch the trailer below.