Monday, November 2, 2015

Beauty and the golden ratio

 The golden ratio

There is one concept I learned from a Loyola photography class that has stuck in my mind after all these years: "There is balance in imbalance, symmetry in asymmetry". This way of looking at the beauty of art, typically Zen in origin, has arisen from the manner in which the oriental observed nature. 

Except for the horizontal line, all else empirically found in nature is perceived to be chaotic. I was assured that it is not. It was explained that in our subconscious minds, there has developed a mysterious sense called cognition. I suppose the best meaning of cognition, which I describe here, is what could be termed, unconscious awareness. Men have developed a superior intuitive intellect, an unconscious consciousness, if you will. I propose here that cognition is innate, that we are born with certain abilities, as a bird knows how to build a nest. In other words, there is something inborn, along with consciousness, some guiding hard-wired process that gives us balance in imbalance, and symmetry in asymmetry. As this developed, art was born, and a concept of beauty as well. Some mystics call it a spiritual side. It tags along with the intellectual side, giving us the ability to tap into a super energy.

Some have described it as the spirit of God and others as a supernatural or numinous consciousness that holds everything together. In a dialogue class a young woman called it: "a perpetual cosmic plasma." Kind of New Age? There have been scientists who have spent a lifetime trying to dispute this. Why? Because we all want to believe that we have a clean slate when we are born, that if in fact where was some elemental part, some calculation written on that slate, that we would not have free will, and control. Responsibility would be in question too. If every other animal on earth has it why not human beings? Our special consciousness and their lack of, is the primary reason we justify killing and eating of them. Does consciousness negate cognition? Please!

I remember my teacher, Mr. White, using his telescoping pointer, before the red laser dots, tracing imaginary lines on large projected photographs of what he considered to be true art. Divided mostly in thirds, the pleasing pictures led the eye in a spiral to a fixed focal point found to one side. Seemingly imbalanced, it was held together by the spiral. It was a strange but true concept, and at first glance seemed to be chaotic, apparently without rhyme or reason. Then I saw it, the spiral, like a chambered nautilus seashell, or the vortex of a hurricane, water down a drain, as found in nature. Nature has implanted that image in our brain. I liked those pictures, and didn't know or understand why, and yet I tried to develop and incorporate it into my own work.

We have all heard the old cliche; beauty is in the eye of the beholder. I see the original writer insinuating that even unattractive people have someone to love. He must have meant it as a joke. It seems that nearly everyone has a picture imprinted in their minds of the perfect place, the perfect face, the perfect body, and believe it or not, the similarities we all have are strikingly alike, all around the world. There is a mathematical formula called the Golden Ratio, which indicates this. In every culture or race of people, there is an idealized beauty, beyond the ethnic differences, that stimulate a perception of physical beauty.

Independently, every dynamically creative culture realized this. Early Greeks, and then the Romans, called it the Golden Ratio, and both artiest and architects knew that what people perceived as aesthetically beautiful came from an unconscious inference of what is attractive in our human faces and bodies. For your information the magic number, found throughout nature is .6180339. This golden number has been flying around mathematician's heads since Fibonacci first introduced it in the 13th century. This transcendental number, like that of pi, shows a progression of numbers that are the sum of the proceeding two, like: 0,1,1,2,3,5,8,13,21… and so on. You may be familiar with the pencil drawing by Leonardo da Vinci, of that longhaired muscle man with arms outstretched, surrounded by a circle? This is his way of showing the Golden Ratio, and he made it a part of his fantastic contribution to man's creativeness.

It is also interesting to note that what we consider beautiful is really very mathematically simple. Though symmetry most surely plays a roll in subjectively considering beauty in a face and body, certainly love plays a part too. I won't go into that now, but emotional factors are also a development of our gathering consciousness, and how they blend in our judgement of beauty also important in understanding why and who we are. It is important to know yourself, and when you find even one simple reason behind what you are, you are closer to understanding why.

Author's  Note: Want to know more about The Golden Ratio? Go to I got the idea for this paper from a small article in the September, 2002 edition of Discover Magazine. In this article it was written that the Golden ratio was 1.618, but as I did my homework found that the number is .6180339. "Golden Section, in mathematics, a geometric proportion in which a line is divided so that the ratio of the length of the longer line segment to the length of the entire line is equal to the ratio of the length of the longer line segment." Microsoft Escarta Encyclopedia, 99.

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