Thursday, April 21, 2011

The Artist's Search for a Fearful Symmetry...Did It All Begin With Zeus.....

The primal artistic search for order and balance in our world, in our life,in our relationships, and in our art and creativity may have started with Zeus... as explored by Plato in his Symposium...he quotes the ancient Greek playwright,Aristophanes:

               "In primal times people were globular
                 spheres who wheeled around like clowns
                 doing cartwheels.
There were three sexes: the all male, the all female, and the "androgynous", who was half man, half woman. The creatures tried to scale the heights of heaven and planned to set upon the gods. Zeus thought about just blasting them to death with thunderbolts, but did not want to deprive himself of their devotions and offerings, so he decided to cripple them by chopping them in half...Ever since that time, people run around saying they are looking for their other half because they are really trying to recover their primal nature."

Leonardo da Vinci created perhaps the most iconic vision of this same primal artistic and human rage for symmetry circa 1487...with his pen and ink drawing of the "Vitruvian Man" which was accompanied by his notes based on the work of the famed architect,Vitruvius who believed architecture should have the same symmetry as the human body. Da Vinci's Vitruvian Man is his image of the essential symmetry of the human body, and by extension of the universe as a whole.
Da Vinci rendered Vitruvius's proportions of a man's body(not of a woman's body)as one circle and square image overlaid on top of each other...first standing with arms outspread inscribed in a square, and then with feet and arms outspread inscribed in a circle. This symmetrical anthropocentric image represents not only Da Vinci's keen interest in proportion, but also it is a cornerstone of his attempts to relate man and nature...he envisaged "the great picture chart of the human body as a "cosmografia del minor mondo"...a cosmography of the microcosm"...he believed the symmetry and workings of the human body to be an analogy for the symmetry and workings of the universe.

Later the English visionary poet, William Blake explored this same artistic search for "fearful symmetry" in his 1794 poem,The Tyger in his Songs of Innocence and Experience....

                   Tyger! Tyger!burning bright
                    In the forests of the night,
                    What immortal hand or eye
                    Dare frame thy fearful symmetry?

Again in Blake's 1795 "Glad Day",he seeks to free Da Vinci's Vitruvian Man from his constraining square and circle...and Blake infuses his Vitruvian Man set free with a new dynamism and joy...he takes Da Vinci's diagrammatic figure and converts it into a dynamic god of energy, and turns its static pose into a centrifugal fling.

Unlike Da Vinci, Blake felt that ideal forms should be constructed not from observations of nature, but from inner visions. He emphasized imagination over reason,and it is therefore ironic that he should adapt a work by Da Vinci who was so focused on observation and the measurement of proportions.

Contemporary artists with feminist-themed art works have once again riffed on Da Vinci's Vitruvian Man, and morphed his iconic anthropomorphic image into that of a latter day Vitruvian Woman...

April Greiman in her seminal use of computer tecnology in her landmark fusion of technology and graphic design...used "hybrid symmetrical imagery" in her 2'X6' poster(which served as a "folded cover" for the magazine) of a contemporary Vitruvian Woman(a nude image of herself) for the 1986 Design Quarterly #133:Does It Make Sense?April's poster was a life-size collage created entirely on the Macintosh computer which was made of many different text and graphic elements,and composed entirely on screen without any conventional design "paste-up"...the graphic design world was irrevocably changed forever by Greiman's female Vitruvian "experiment"!

Another contemporary feminist vision of a Vitruvian Woman which resonates Blake's "Glad Day" in setting the Vitruvian figure free of its enclosing and constraining Sculptor Jane Dedecker's "Vitruvian Woman"...

Recently the radio show,Radiolab collaborated to create a short film for their Desperately Seeking Symmetry episode,delving deeper into symmetry's role in shaping how we live,find love, and create art:
As the French philosopher of science,Henri Poincare has said,"It is the harmony of the diverse parts, their symmetry,their happy balance;in a word it is all that introduces order, all that gives unity, that permits us to see clearly and to comprehend at once both the ensemble and the details."
The universe is built on a plan the profound symmetry of which is somehow present in the inner structure of our intellect...Paul Valery

Symmetry....a beauty of form arising from balanced everywhere... in art,architecture, and the universe!

                                                         The Galettes
                                                         Claude Monet

Georgia O'Keeffe

Georgia O'Keeffe

Georgia O'Keeffe

                                                  Charis in Doorway
                                                  Edward Weston

                                                  Bronze Sculpture
                                                  Edgar Degas

                                                              Karl Jung,The Castle,1928


Leonardo da Vinci,The Last Supper, Tempera and mixed media on plaster,mural on an entire back wall,Convent of Santa Maria delle Grazie,Milan

For Further Reading......1.Hybrid Imagery  The fusion of technology and graphic design,April Greiman,
1990,Watson-Guptill Publications,New York... 2.Fearful Symmetry A Study of William Blake,Northrop Frye,1947,an intense study completed over a period of a decade,Frye made Blake's voice and vision intelligible...a landmark of Blake criticism.

M.C. Escher, Drawing Hands, 1948
M.C.Escher, Circle Limit III,1959

PATTERNS....Leanne Shapton's illustrated series catalogs designs and textiles observed in passing...

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