My creative project is a somewhat abstract exploration of how the idea of ​recursion​ can be explored through an artistic lens.

-Elizabeth Banks

What is recursion in a mathematical sense?

According to the Cambridge Dictionary, recursion is “the practice of describing numbers, expressions, etc. in terms of the numbers, expressions, etc. that come before them in a series.” In other words, it is when something is defined by itself. This is quite broad, and recursion has many diverse applications in the field of mathematics and computer science. For example, one of the most familiar applications of recursion is the Fibonacci sequence: ​F​(​n)​ = ​F(​ ​n​ − 1) + ​F​(​n​ − 2). The reason it is recursive is because it uses numbers within its own set to define subsequent numbers within the set.

How does recursion present itself in the artistic world?

While recursion can seem quite complex mathematically, it actually presents itself quite simply in an artistic sense. One somewhat famous example of recursion in art is called the Droste effect. It originated from this packaging design:

In the image on the package, there is an image of the same package.

The Droste effect can be seen widely throughout the artistic world in the form of images containing their own image. 

How can I apply recursion to my own art-making?

While the Droste effect is an easily recognizable and succinct application of the idea of recursion, I really wanted to push myself further into how I could represent this idea in my own way. As an artist, I am always drawn to self-portraiture, especially in oils. I thought it would be fun to do my creative project in my own artistic style, as if it could simply be part of my existing portfolio. With this in mind, I chose my subject and my medium: a self-portrait in oils.

In order to really manipulate the idea of recursion into a more abstract representation, I chose to do my portrait on a mirror. This represents recursion because, when I look at my self-portrait, me, the subject, stares back in the mirror. In this way, it is almost like an image is depicted with an image; the viewer defines the content of the piece. While this is not the most straightforward way to present recursion in art, I thought it best suited my artistic style, and it was a unique and abstract way to present a mathematical topic.


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