Proportion: The oldest state of beauty – 71Bait

Following his opening article for BeautyMatter on The origins of beauty standardsacademic u Aesthetics Research Laboratory founder Michael R Spicher delves into the history of proportion as a defining characteristic of what is considered beautiful.

Artists adjust or manipulate the proportions of the human form for various purposes. In ancient Greece, sculpture stood as an example of an “ideal” and unattainable human form. Based on the philosophy of the time, the Greeks may have believed that their sculptures represented man’s true nature or form. In the 16th century El Greco painted people with elongated bodies to show that they transcend the physical, that people are also spiritual. In addition, modern art has imposed radically different images of man on society. Typical of the radical departure, Willem De Kooning is immediately remembered Mrs I (1952), which some have called frightening. While these three examples depict the human form with different schemas, despite exaggerated proportions, we recognize a human presence in each of them. These images of art history lead to the idea that objective qualities of beauty remain illusory.

With Plato symposium, Socrates narrates the dialogue he had with Diotima, where she reveals the nature of beauty. They discussed how people look around and see beauty in physical bodies. From physical beauty people climb like a stairway beyond the physical to the more perfect beauty of ideas. This fantastic process illustrates the belief that many ancient (and medieval) philosophers associated beauty with knowledge. Today we may not connect them to the same degree, but a connection remains. When beauty invades us, we want to know more. The more knowledge we gain, the more we appreciate nuances or aspects of beauty that we didn’t understand at first. Of course, with more knowledge, the possibility of not finding something beautiful becomes possible.

If beauty is associated with knowledge, then people should be able to locate some recurring features of beauty. These qualities are not a guarantee of beauty, as the philosopher Immanuel Kant rightly observed – there is no formula for making the manufacture of beauty a certainty. Beauty mysteriously exists as it combines properties of objects with feelings of the viewer. Nevertheless, people continue to consider certain characteristics of beauty to be important. Proportion remains one of the oldest characteristics of beauty.

What does share mean? Symmetry, harmony and balance immediately come to mind as aspects of proportion. But the portion cannot be reduced to any one of these. Symmetrical things can be beautiful, but symmetry alone also leads to boring or even ugly objects. Traditionally, people used symmetry to describe the architecture part and they used harmony to describe the music part. For the early mathematician Pythagoras, proportion was a mathematical component of beauty. In fact, the Pythagoreans viewed music as a form of mathematics rather than art, since harmony could be quantified numerically. We could also think of the golden ratio of 1 to 1.618. Scholars find uses of this ratio in ancient Greek and African cultures. More generally, people find this ratio and other similar proportions in art, nature, or the built environment. For example, the golden ratio appears in Notre Dame Cathedral, nautilus shells, and human faces, but like most examples of proportion, it rarely fits perfectly. Defining proportions with numbers wasn’t the only approach.

Thomas Aquinas, a 13th-century philosopher and theologian, lists proportion as one of three conditions of beauty – the others being integrity and charisma. Proportion correlates a created object with the original. For example, someone paints a depiction of a dog and paints each leg a different length and thickness than each other leg. The final painting would be out of proportion to the actual dog, which has front legs and hind legs roughly the same size. While a painting might depict a two-inch dog, the proportions of the parts must still be that of a real dog. Ultimately, according to Thomas Aquinas, all physical things – animals, plants and human beings – contain a proportion with their corresponding idea (or relationship) in the mind of God.

Aquinas’ ideas predate modern art by some 600 years. We could imagine a Cubist painting that varies the length of a dog’s legs to create a beautiful artistic effect. Artistic beauty and natural beauty overlap, but we allow distortions in art as they often express emotion or ideas. But the taste for these experiments was not immediately accepted; they were acquired. We don’t have to postulate the existence of God to demonstrate our natural desire for proportion. For example, when it comes to music, studies have shown that people, even when they are as young as babies, prefer consonant (harmonic and stable) music to dissonant (rough and unresolved) music. People can become familiar with dissonant music, which some people find faster, and appreciate it just as much as consonant music. But people gravitate toward harmony as it offers balance and resolution that appeals to our senses in a more natural way.

Proportions, like any other aspect of beauty, allow for multiple uses and preferences. Compare a European cathedral with a Japanese rock garden. Many cathedrals expand symmetrically, often forming the shape of a cross. Japanese rock gardens exhibit no such symmetry; They might even appear a bit random, with a large rock and a small rock in two corners. But these gardens maintain a sort of harmony between rock and sand, not to mention the surrounding gardens of plants and flowers. We could endlessly discuss various uses of proportion in works of art throughout history. People experiment with trying to create new instantiations of beauty, often using proportion.

What does all this mean for the beauty industry? As should be clear, there will be no universal application of proportions. Instead of urging consumers to follow the style of a select few (influencers or celebrities), they should focus on the individual. It seems relatively harmless to say that not every style works equally well for every person. Some colors enhance one person’s beauty while washing out another person’s skin. The proportions also vary according to a person’s other attributes. The range of proportions varies from person to person, so each person should know their body enough to use proportion correctly. Individuals in positions in the beauty industry could assist in this discovery process to find products or techniques that work for a specific person, rather than imposing an impossible standard based on someone else’s.

Proportion is embedded in every theory of beauty. As one of the oldest characteristics of beauty, once thought to be the only meaning of beauty, it persists. The proportion can be objective – part of the object; A person’s experiences, to varying degrees, depend on their cultural expectations and environment. But knowing our bodies helps us navigate the worlds of clothing, accessories and beauty to know how to enhance our natural qualities for the effects we want.

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