I sudoku, do you? I will also admit that I work the word jumble puzzle in the daily paper. I love jigsaw puzzles and the spot the difference challenge between seemingly identical photos. Perhaps that explains the career path I chose for over 30 years as a visual artist, which is just a 21st century term for puzzle/problem solver.
So what does this have to do with art?
A few years back I remember completing a painting that I was very happy with. I thought I had arrived as an artist. The work was validated when it won an award at an national show. I had made it. Back in the studio, I was empowered with vigor and confidence. Problem was, as they say “history is no indication of future performance.” My next endeavor was close to a disaster. So what happened? Where did the magic go? Pixy dust has a longer shelf life than this. Doesn’t it?
Puzzle solving begins.
I took my “wow” painting along with about a dozen others and lined them up along the studio wall. Based on my the list of questions to consider when critiquing my own work and the works of my students I went around the room. Value distribution, variety of shapes, interesting shapes, color harmony, dominance of warms or cools, repetition, balance, poetry in the concept, music in mark making, etc. There were actually a few paintings that I felt really good about, and some had issues. But what made the difference between the “wows” and the “not bads?” They both seemed to have addressed the elements and principles of design, the major players.
The light bulb goes off!
I remember in a college math class, of all places, a professor brought up the theory of the Golden Ratio, phi, the natural phenomenon of beauty that is based on a 3:5 ratio. I recall his dramatic video presentation of an extraordinary attractive woman compared to a pleasant looking counterpart. He overlaid each of their images with a grid based on the Golden Mean 3:5 ratio. The fashion model’s features lined up perfectly. The other women’s facial features in many cases just seem to miss the mark.
A possible solution.
So my puzzle solving brain deduced that the closer something adheres to the magical 3:5 ratio, the more we as humans see it as beautiful or attractive. Back in the studio, I started measuring where edges met the outside of my painting. How did they break up the linear space? I also took note of implied lines in the composition and their ratio to one another. I measured shape masses and compared them to one another. I checked out the relationship between positive and negative spaces. My better pantings had a much higher number of “perfect” relationships.
You don’t need to be a math wizard.
Measuring spatial relationships with a Golden Ratio Caliber
All my measuring and dividing was a bit tedious and something I would never do on a regular basis. Golden Mean calibers are available but they are pretty pricey. Now thanks to technology, PhiMatrix released this past month an inexpensive program developed to allow you to overlay a grid on any digital image. So if I have peaked your curiosity check out the free demo available for both Mac and Windows platforms.
Is this the solution to the puzzle? Not really. But it is pretty interesting to consider. In the meantime, I’ll keep looking for the next puzzle piece.