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Numbers by Paint

This week's web site is rather odd and could be used to trigger multiple discussions in a mathematics classroom, as I will try to show. The web site, onethousandpaintings.com, is the creative product of Marcel Salathe, a Swiss artist. Basically, he is creating exactly 1000 paintings, each showing a number from 1 to 1000. Every painting is done on a 12 x 12 white canvas, with the numbers in blue.

As the artist Salathe claims: "One number, one painting - the number is the art is the limit is the price...This is an experiment of art and mathematics, on the web, the first of its kind."

One interesting aspect is his determination of the value of each painting. From the start, Salathe has claimed that the value of each painting is based on its number, using the equation: Value = 1000 - number. That is, the painting 314 is worth $686, while the painting of the only even prime 2 is worth $998.

His pricing scheme also is interesting. The first hundred sold received a 90% discount off the value, the second hundred sold received a 80% discount, etc. He has sold a lot of paintings, as the current discount is 20%.

This website, especially with its blog of fascinating information, can generate discussion in a mathematics classroom:

  • Assuming you bought multiple paintings, what is of greater value: e being 271 828 182 or pi being 314 159 265?
  • Looking at the list of paintings sold, is it true that the majority of the paintings sold involved prime numbers...and is this explainable?
  • Riley Crane (owner of the painting 626) plotted the number of paintings sold over time...and an interesting exercise is to explain why it flucuates.
  • Janice & Peter (owners of the four paintings 335, 445, 533, 544) created palidromic sequences and number patterns that have visual effects.
  • Salathe notes: With more than two thirds of the paintings sold, there seems to be increased interest in low (i.e. double digit numbers). There are only 7 double digit numbers left, and the former lowest number 46 has been sold last night (number 58 is now the new star)." Any idea why this would happen?
  • See the Problem of the Week for more ideas.
Since the advent of onethousandpaintings.com, other "ripoffs" have shown up. Two examples are doyouhaveminute.com and artinitials.com.

Source: Idea triggered by Daniel Pink's note in Wired, December 2006, p. 106