Chloe Epstein, Instructor in Math, Uses ‘Artistic Thinking’ To Aid the Learning Process

Epstein’s cartoon illustration for her college’s paper, The Ithacan

Epstein uses stained glass to create a Möbius strip.

Epstein’s construction of the golden ratio using 3-4-5 triangles with stained glass.

For Chloe Epstein, Instructor in Math, art has always played an omnipresent role in her life. Inspired by several family members during her childhood, many of whom have pursued professional careers in the visual arts, she has been exposed to a range of artistic mediums including architecture, drawing, and photography. 

“I have two older brothers who are now professional artists, and they showed extreme interest in visual arts at a very young age. I always had the role model of my brothers’ drawing. My mom enjoys painting very much, so I also had that influence. As a result, trying different types of visual art was pretty normalized in my childhood,” said Epstein.

Following in her brothers’ footsteps, Epstein experimented with numerous forms of visual art. In fifth grade, she dabbled in architecture, creating models of offices and buildings with a hot glue gun, cardboard, and duct tape. In high school and college, she became a cartoonist for the school newspaper, helping to emphasize weekly editorial pieces. All of the above, Epstein believes, helped her to communicate and process concepts that shaped her later on in life. 

“Playing with scale and construction informed a lot of my interests from college and onwards… [while drawing cartoons] became an interesting way to process ideas. They were ways to represent the conflict I might be feeling, or the resolution we’re hoping for. It was also the easiest way for me to communicate,” said Epstein.

Despite her passion for art, Epstein decided to major in math in college, inspired by her calculus class taken as a high school senior. After graduating from Ithaca College, she later chose to work as a math instructor at Andover. Epstein believes that her identities as an artist and mathematician are distinctly interconnected, especially in terms of thinking, visualizing, and processing. 

“The two are very similar. There’s this struggle between what the artist or mathematician might want to express, solve, or conceive of… and the limits of the scenarios they haven’t considered. And yet, still, there is a perseverance through those limitations to create either a work of art or a portion of knowledge that can be appreciated by others,” said Epstein.

While Epstein does not pressure her students to connect art with math, she does encourage the use of ‘artistic thinking’ to aid the learning process, which she exemplifies during her own lectures. One important tool she utilizes is the graphing application Desmos, which helps to visualize curves and equations. 

“I try to encourage the use of Desmos for visualization a lot. I try to share stories or examples with my students of how I might be processing something visually as an example of how one person might be approaching a particular type of graphing scenario or word problem. I incorporate it into my curriculum by modeling it myself, which is how I use artistic thinking in problem-solving,” said Epstein. 

While employing “artistic thinking” to help her students, Epstein also experiments with other forms of art outside of the classroom as hobbies and forms of relaxation. Many of these artistic pursuits explore the idea of space and the ways in which it can be affected. For example, Epstein enjoys drawing ambigrams, which are designed words that read with 180 degree symmetry. She also creates stained glass in her spare time. These outlets help Epstein to be her best creative self both inside and outside of the classroom.

“It’s easy to put hobbies aside because you feel so busy, but I feel more engaged and creative in the classroom when I’m working on ambigrams or stained glass. To keep the work-life balance that we talk so much about, we need to practice self-care, and I consider my artistic pursuits as part of self-care,” said Epstein.