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38 39 Asymmetry the paradox of inconstancy Where does symmetry end and asymmetry begin Take a closer look at the Roman mosaic featured on the cover of this book. Is it symmetrical or not There is an obvious overall symmetry, but a closer examination reveals that there are different designs in each of the roundels, and as many in each of their borders. So perhaps this composition is best characterised as having a somewhat disturbed symmetryit exemplifies the paradox mentioned in the Introduction, namely, that the notion of symmetry is essentially inextricable from that of asymmetry. One of the most important discoveries in recent science is that the notion of broken symmetry has deep cosmological implications more of this on page 46, but it is clear that a great many things in the world are like this. The fact is that wherever one looks there are many kinds, as well as degrees, of deviation from symmetry. The human body, for example, is bilateral or dorsiventral in its general form and some internal organs, like the lungs and kidneys follow this symmetry, but others, such as the alimentary canal, heart and liver do not. And even the overall symmetry is only approximate. Most of us have a dominant hand and eye, and there are subtle differences in the respective left and right sides of faces. In living organisms generally the underlying reasons for the sort of deviations from bilateralism shown opposite derive from evolutionary fitness. Where a mirrorsymmetry is appropriate or necessary it is retained, where it isnt, it may be modified or abandoned. Many species have opted for lopsidedness in varying degrees, but we can be sure that the Crossbill, Fiddler crab and Begonia leaf each had their own very good reasons to adopt their respective asymmetries. There is another aspect of asymmetry that should be touched on, namely that used in the field of art and design. There are various motives for deliberately introducing asymmetries into a design, these include religious or superstitious reasons, or simply the impulse to create a certain dynamic tension this last is particularly noticeable in Japanese art. Ironically, whatever the reasons behind the use of deliberate asymmetries, there is bound to be a tacit acknowledgement of the notion of symmetry itself. This means that asymmetry in art is usually a reactive response, on some level or other, to this basic ordering principle.
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