Why is symmetrical design so attractive?

Why is symmetrical design so attractive?

Scott and I took our respective kids to the Albuquerque BioPark this past weekend for Spring break.  The BioPark has a zoo, botanical garden, and an aquarium.  In moving through the park, I was first struck by the tropical fish in the Pacific Rim habitat  I just love the variation of bright colors and patterns on the tropical fish.  Later in the day, we saw giraffes and zebras in the zoo.  It occurred to me that both the tropical fish and these African animals exhibit a type of symmetrical patterns.  Symmetry is defined as "the correspondence in size, form, and arrangement of parts on opposite sides of a plane, line, or point." Both the tropical fish and the zebra appear to have a seam down their spines and bellies that connect the two symmetrical sides.  In contrast, the jelly fish displays radial symmetry, where the symmetry radiates out from a center point.

symmetrical design of a tropical fish  symmetrical pattern of a zebra's stripes

Symmetry is defined as "the correspondence in size, form, and arrangement of parts on opposite sides of a plane, line, or point." Both the tropical fish and the zebra appear to have a seam down their spines and bellies that connect the two symmetrical sides. 

The botanical garden had a greenhouse filled with luscious flowers.  The orchids, gardenias, and jasmine also show variations of symmetry.  It seems that nature favors symmetry as a means for attraction, reproduction and protective coloration.

What makes symmetry so attractive?

Symmetry or symmetrical balance in art also called “formal balance”.  There is a very clearly defined structure to symmetrical balance, as both sides mirror one another as in bilateral symmetry.  Symmetrical balance promotes feelings of calm, stability, and order.  The mind can easily organize and make sense of symmetrical patterns: therefore, they are soothing, pleasing and attractive.

In art history, you often see examples of symmetry in art in religious architecture.  Symmetrical balance throughout art history has conveyed the feeling of divine order. Consider the Cathedral of Notre Dame or an ancient Mayan calendar, both contain symmetrical balance and speak symbolically of a higher order.

symmetrical balance seen in the facade of Notre Dame radial symmetry in art seen in a Mayan Calendar

To the modern Western eye, we tend to think of symmetrical balance as somewhat sedate.  However, symmetry is still popular in fashion design as well as a variety of product and interior design.  For example, think socks or earrings-- for the most part we like symmetry!

Our Peacock painting shows two types of symmetrical balance: bilateral symmetry and a variation of rotational symmetry.  The bilateral symmetry is seen in the mirroring of the right and left halves of the picture plane.  The rotational symmetry is seen in the tessellating pattern; for example, the adjacent peacock eyes are upside down and flipped mirrors of one another.

The orchid in the greenhouse, the patterns on a tropical fish, or the stripes on a zebra move us and inspire us!  Each is attractive by design and stimulate our innate sense of beauty, pleasure and harmony.

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