Is beauty in the eye of the beholder or can it be mathematically defined? Discuss.

Why do we find some things pleasing to the eye and others not? Why do we see the same shapes and spirals throughout nature?

These questions have been pondered on by artists, creators, designers, scientists, mathematicians, architects and others for centuries. There are many theories as to why and how natural forms are created, what make a perfect shape, piece of art, or human body. Some of these principles are accepted and taught as being the definitive principles to define perfection. Others change over time as scientific knowledge expands.

You might agree that Leonardo da Vinci's Mona Lisa or the Parthenon in Athens were created using the Golden Section (aka Golden ratio, Phi) or not. However, it is true that this and other 'rules' concerning proportion may help us make more pleasing compositions. Therefore it is useful to understand what they are and how we could apply them.

Whether you then actively use them, or you go with your gut instinct, the bottom line is that if you think it looks good, then it probably does.

Proportion describes the size, location, or amount of one element in relation to another. They have a great deal to do with the overall harmony of an individual piece and our perception of the art. There are 2 main theories regarding proportion. The Golden Section, also know as the golden rectangle, the golden ratio, phi) and the rule of thirds.

The Golden Section or Ratio

The golden section is based on a mathematical formula for defining perfection. A search on the internet will take you to many thousands of articles and videos, explaining the maths, how nature uses it all over the place and how great art and architecture throughout history is based on it. Some expound in great detail either from the maths or the nature point of view. So you can easily research this theory as deep as you care to dive in.

Watch these suggested videos

We leave you to draw (excuse the pun!) your own conclusions!

The rule of thirds

The Rule of Thirds is probably one of the most basic guidelines that has been used in painting for ages. It is a compositional rule of thumb that is commonly used in the visual arts today including painting, photography and design. Ever noticed that little grid in your camera viewfinder? Now you know what it is for!

Watch this video

Then read this article that explains how we can use the rule of thirds in our designs (well it is talking about painting - but the idea is the same).

The Rule of Thirds: Why it Works and How to Use it in Your Art 

The rules or guidelines can help you with the placement of the elements and focal point within your compositions. In art, rules are made to be broken! The artist should be able to freely stretch and push the boundaries. Knowing why you do something and what effect that will have on the viewer leads to a good composition and helps you to achieve the effect you want.

Activity: Find Examples of Golden Section or Rule of Thirds

what to do

Find some images from catalogues, magazines etc. of objects or pieces of art that you think have been based on either the Golden Section or the Rule of Thirds. Try to find at least one of an item from your chosen craft.

Add your images to your portfolio and along with your thoughts and comments.