I Wonder: M.C. Escher

Lithograph of "Waterfall" by M.C. Escher

Waterfall by M.C. Escher

The art of M. C. Escher is, in a word, interesting. The word “interesting” is often a euphemism, especially in art, for “weird and I don’t like it.” Not in this case though. It creates interest. It naturally generates interest in what is going on within the piece. I have yet to see someone not react to it.

On Wednesdays we warm up with “I Wonder.” As students walk in they grab a whiteboard and look at the screen to see an image or looping video. Their job: Write in two columns what they notice and what they wonder.

For the Waterfall image, they noticed these things:

  • black and white
  • drawing, not a photograph
  • there’s a waterfall
  • there are two weird shapes on top of the columns
  • there are steps in the background
  • weird plants that should be underwater
  • stairs
  • someone doing laundry
  • the water is going the wrong way / optical illusion

Of course the last one is where I’m hoping they’ll go. Here’s what they wondered:

  • why is the water going the wrong way?
  • are those weird shapes actually puzzles for a giant?
  • who lives in the house on the left?
  • is this on another planet?
  • could you actually build this in real life?

They have about 3 minutes to write quietly, then we gather all their observations on the board. After some great discussions about paradoxes and optical illusions I reveal what this is and introduce them to the artist M. C. Escher (not a rapper).

If someone were to ask, “This isn’t math! Why are you doing this?”, how would you respond?

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