The Way the World Works

What makes some images pleasing to the eye and others not? Among the only answers I have found over the years is the tired, old “I may not know art (or beauty or whatever), but I know what I like.” That explanation is empty and useless; it treats the question as if it were unworthy of thought. Usually, when I ponder the question (which I do quite a lot, for some reason), I tire early of seeking answers to a question that has none. But this morning I spent more time than usual exploring the question and reading what others have to say about it. Interestingly, some people consider the question a philosophical one, while others believe it to be a question whose answer may be found in science or facts or measurable reality.

This morning, I found a related question on Quora, which bills itself as “a social question-and-answer website and online knowledge market.” The question: “Why does visual composition always seek to represent images that are aesthetically pleasing to the eye?” An answer posted by Pamela Trow intrigued me. She wrote, “Nature’s formula for visual harmony and beauty is called the Dynamic Mean or Divine Proportion and the mathematical formula is exemplified by the Fibonacci Sequence (also known as the Golden Ratio) in which each successive number is equal to the sum of the two preceding numbers.” Interesting. I have long known of the Golden Ratio/Fibonacci Sequence, exemplified by images of a Nautilus shell, but I have not understood it to be the representative of beauty in all things. But if that is the key, then a person might be able to understand why he finds one person beautiful and another only mildly attractive. Yet a mathematical formula cannot incorporate emotion. For example, the closer I get, emotionally, to another person, the more beautiful I find that person to be. The appeal of art, though, might be explained by the degree to which its images approach the Fibonacci Sequence. But, no, one person may find a piece of art extraordinarily beautiful, while another person may find the same piece of art unappealing in the extreme. So much for a mathematical explanation of what constitutes visually appealing images.

And here I sit, watching the day unfold outside my window. Some of the supple green leaves on the trees are beautiful; others are brown, brittle, and deformed. But they, too, are beautiful in completely different ways. Physical beauty is shaped by the emotions; mood molds what is or is not pleasing to the eye. I do not understand it. I want to, but probably never will. That is both all right and awfully unsatisfying. That’s the way the world works.

About John Swinburn

"Love not what you are but what you may become."― Miguel de Cervantes
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