Saturday, August 31, 2013

The Mathemusical Cartooning Magic of Vi Hart

The wildly popular YouTube videos of Vi Hart - in addition to their most important element, music - have displayed a consistent use of comic illustration as visuals of Hart's ideas. (I've previously philosophized on the idea of comics as visual performance art in a video by the comedian Jenna Marbles.) Hart, a self-described "Mathemusician," uses beautifully composed original musical numbers and her lively cartooning to produce brilliant videos that describe even the most complex mathematical and scientific ideas in accessible and entertaining ways. She regularly espouses a philosophy of non-standardized learning, improvisation, and creativity in learning about math, science and history over rote scholastic methods. Her unique talents as an expert in mathematics, as a skilled musician with a beautiful singing voice, and as a visionary visual educator, make her charming and wildly entertaining educational videos a must for people of all ages.

I've been taken by Hart's videos for a while now, not just in the cartoony illustrations she uses and her wonderfully expressive music, but in the sheer amount she is able to communicate with those combined factors. In Twelve Tones (embedded below), her most recent, longest, and most ambitious production, she starts by detailing the mathematical qualities of Stravinsky's oeuvre, spinning off into the very concepts at the core of human creativity. While educating about complex musical and mathematical concepts, Hart simultaneously explores the idea of the human perception of art, shattering boundaries while passionately imploring you to shatter boundaries. Twelve Tones is a masterpiece of music & illustration, education & entertainment, math, science & art.

My favorite of Hart's videos is her inspiring and illuminating series on Fibonacci sequences in nature. In Doodling in Math: Spirals, Fibonacci, and Being a Plant she produces an engaging and remarkably accessible exploration of the how and why of certain natural phenomena. Her other videos range from the wrongness of pi to the oddness of Pythagoras to her constructions of hexaflexagons that have been viewed more than five million times. In all of them lie a core of nonconformism and discovery, and completely wonderful cartooning. Hart's videos, cemented by her cartooning and her passion, open up a universe of possibilities in how math and science are taught to millions.

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