The mathematics of beauty
23 February 2009 4 Comments
Sebastian Smee of the Boston Globe penned a very interesting profile this weekend on one Horace Brock, an imposing man with five degrees under his belt including classical music, mathematics and economics.
Brock claims to have discovered a formula for beauty. From the article:
What about this theory, then?
In truth, it’s satisfyingly simple. Designed objects, Brock writes, can be broken down into “themes” and “transformations.” A theme is a motif, such as an S-curve; a transformation might see that curve appear elsewhere in the design, but stretched, rotated 90 degrees, mirrored, or otherwise reworked . . .
Brock wants to be clear that his theory applies only to beauty in design – in other words, architecture, furniture, and other kinds of decorative art: “That’s very important – I wouldn’t want to claim too much.” But in his catalog essay he claims his account “makes it possible to clarify, and indeed to quantify, one of the deepest principles of aesthetics: People . . . tend to be bored if there is too much simplicity (the kitchen chair, certain Gregorian chants) and overwhelmed if there is too much complexity (pastiche Victorian furniture, much 20th-century classical music).”
In his estimation, the theory also subsumes most previous theories of beauty in design – from Pythagoras’s golden rectangle to Hogarth’s “line of beauty,” from the celebrated golden section to the Fibonacci series – into a neat mathematical equation.
Smee probes a little and questions whether beauty can be reduced so simplistically to an equation. Brock is absolute in his response to the idea that beauty is merely in the eye of the beholder, “It’s absolute crap.”
A man after my own heart. Read the article in its entirety here.