, Volume 111, Issue 2, pp 171-182

First online:


  • GIAN-CARLO ROTAAffiliated withDepartment of Mathematics, Massachusetts Institute of Technology

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It has been observed that whereas painters and musicians are likely to be embarrassed by references to the beauty in their work, mathematicians instead like to engage in discussions of the beauty of mathematics. Professional artists are more likely to stress the technical rather than the aesthetic aspects of their work. Mathematicians, instead, are fond of passing judgment on the beauty of their favored pieces of mathematics. Even a cursory observation shows that the characteristics of mathematical beauty are at variance with those of artistic beauty. For example, courses in “art appreciation” are fairly common; it is however unthinkable to find any “mathematical beauty appreciation” courses taught anywhere. The purpose of the present paper is to try to uncover the sense of the term “beauty” as it is currently used by mathematicians.