Saturday, July 30, 2016

Grand Harmonies

Mathematician Henri Poincaré believed we study science and natural phenomena because we take pleasure in it. We take pleasure in natural phenomena because they're beautiful. On the motivation behind scientific inquiry Poincaré wrote:

"If nature were not beautiful it would not be worth knowing, and life would not be worth living."
Henri Poincaré

Lavender and Green
Arthur Wesley Dow

Poincaré delineated between the beauty of appearances and the beauty of intellectual abstractions like the mathematics undergirding science.
I am not speaking, of course, of the beauty which strikes the senses, of the beauty of qualities and appearances. I am far from despising this, but it has nothing to do with science. What I mean is that more intimate beauty which comes from the harmonious order of its parts, and which a pure intelligence can grasp.
Henri Poincaré
Drawing these distinctions was Poincaré's preference. At some level, these distinctions becomes immaterial. Perception is subjective whether born from sensual input from natural phenomena or from the symbolic abstractions crafted to model the behavior of some natural phenomena. Sublimity is sublimity. Beauty is beauty.

Geologist and early expedition leader in the American west John Wesley Powell wrote of the harmony of form, color, and sound he experienced after he explored the Grand Canyon:
The glories and the beauties of form, color, and sound unite in the Grand Canyon - forms unrivaled even by the mountains, colors that vie with sunsets, and sounds that span the diapason from tempest to tinkling raindrop, from cataract to bubbling fountain.
John Wesley Powell
The Destroyer
Arthur Wesley Dow
circa 1911-13
American artist Arthur Wesley Dow argued against the shallow pursuit of painting imitative likenesses of nature. Rather he advocated for composition: the harmonious use of line, color, and shading.
Composition, building up of harmony, is the fundamental process in all the fine arts. I hold that art should be approached through composition rather than through imitative drawing.
Arthur Wesley Dow
The Destroyer, a curvilinear composition of the Grand Canyon is an exquisite example of Dow's use of line, color, and shading.

Dow's painting evokes a sensual experience of the Grand Canyon that arguably would've been absent in a representational painting.

Dow was influenced by Japanese art. He was taken by the compositional freedom that encouraged off-center subject matter. He was inspired by the use of flat areas of strong color, simplified shapes, and patterns of darks and lights — elements that also influenced the arts and crafts movement.

August Moon
Arthur Wesley Dow
circa 1905

Simplicity is revealed by complexity. Harmony emerges from discord. Both await our discovery.
Three Rules of Work:
Out of clutter find simplicity.
From discord find harmony.
In the middle of difficulty lies opportunity.
Albert Einstein