Since Romanticism, art divided itself into two streams, the one of logic and science and the other of pure expression. Both focused their forces for the better understanding of the world yet the tools that they relied upon differed. The fusion of creativity and science and the understanding that the world is most easily understood through numbers, golden ratio, symmetry, balance, and proportion, influenced some of the major artworks in the past. The idea of symmetry art is possibly one of the most interesting ones to examine since it suggests the need of the painter to produce the most pleasing image for the eye, but it also showcases the desire to copy nature and to better understand, and in some cases, even manipulate with its laws.
But, what is happening in the art world today? Can we claim that there is such a thing as symmetry art and that symmetry, balance or even unbalanced compositions are so planned and thoroughly researched as they were in the past?
Symmetry in everyday language refers to a sense of harmonious and most appealing proportion and balance. Symmetrical balance is also called formal balance because it employs a formula of the mirror image about vertical axes. It is a balance that is achieved by the arrangement of elements on both side of the center, in other words, the image would look identical on either side, formed through horizontal or vertical division. Because of its very structured and equally proportioned nature, symmetrical balance is best suited for if the desired effect requires a sense of order, clarity, and consistency. For the eye, the idea of balance and repetition that follows an identical rhythm is a place of rest and this type of image is easy to follow.
One of the usually desirable characteristics of any composition, be it within an abstract piece or highly realistic painting, is balance. This could be achieved by the formula of the symmetrical balance, but also with the use of different types of symmetry that slightly move the elements within the picture to the left, right, to the bottom or up. While designers most often use the symmetrical balance, most painters tend to look towards the slight shifts that are available in inverted symmetry, near symmetry, biaxial symmetry, radial symmetry, and even asymmetry is used to place focus on one particular part or figure within the work.
Almost at every scale, symmetry finds itself in architecture, be it in the external views of the buildings, layouts of different floor plans, or in the elaborate design of building elements, such as tile mosaics, or the arabesque patterns. Moorish buildings like Alhambra uses complex patterns made with reflection symmetry. One of the most famous paintings in art history linked to the desire for the creation of the most pleasing and balanced image is The Last Supper by Leonardo da Vinci. Many historians and lovers of the golden ratio theory have spent hours analyzing the artist’s work, constantly finding evidence to support the theory of symmetry and numbers. The term ‘Mathematical Art’ was used to describe the tessellation art of M.C. Esher. Focusing his pieces on the exploration of repetition, geometrical shapes, and symmetry Esher’s questioning of the visual perception led him to play with the interlocking designs in search for the balanced image that toyed with the eye’s perception. As much as he disliked his art to be linked to any movement, Op Art, and its artists adopted some elements of his work. The link to symmetry existed in the creation of famous art nouveau patterns of Koloman Moser, and today we can find equilibrium in textile, embroidery patterns, elements of quilt design of the naïve and primitive art as well. Other crafts such as pottery making and metal vessel for the creation of different objects rely upon the rotational symmetry and often the ornamentation found in Orient rugs showcases the both horizontal and vertical axes reflection of different geometrical shapes.
As symmetry is not only linked to the visual art, we know of different examples how it touches and creates both musical compositions, influencing the pitch structure and its form, and literature, taking shape in the palindrome, where the text reads the same backward and forwards. In regards to the visual field, the technological developments, and different computer programs have made the lives of major graphic designers and illustrators much easier. The click of a button creates some of the most elaborate patterns and designs that can be used later for a variety of different purposes. The art educational system today, as much as it supports some of the traditional elements of creativity, is constantly challenging its students and young contemporary artists to push the boundaries of art and to break free from the traditional understanding of color, balance, and composition.
As much as we had artists in the past focusing their practice on the creation of pieces that played with the sense of balance within the picture, we also have major examples that refused any rule and still, somehow the image is steady. This is what we have today. The eclectic nature of contemporary art allows for all and for nothing at all.
Editors’ Tip: Symmetry in Science and Art Softcover reprint of the original 1st ed. 1974 Edition
The development of the underlying laws of nature and the human desire to understand the world traces back to Pythagorean times. The fusion of science and art, along with the merge of mathematical theories in regards to the meaning of symmetry and its perception is the focus of the book that brings to us the research into the idea of symmetry hidden in art and science that is seen as a tool for the understanding of the wide range of occurrences. From the natural crystal shapes to the mathematical theories, to the art of patterns, this book offers an insight into the mysteries of numbers, proportion, and balance.
All images used for illustrative purposes only. Featured image in slider:Rose painting on glass. Image via pinterest.com; Koloman Moser - Pattern Design. Image via definepattern.tumblr.com; M.C. Escher - Artwork. Image via wallup.net.
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