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Symmetry

46 47 symmetry in Art constraint and creative potentiality In view of its universality, we have to view the artistic impulse as a basic human response, but its aims, methods and roles within societies are as diverse as the cultural settings themselves. Art can have a magical or religious purpose, and it may be representational or decorativebut whatever its specific aims or functions, it is bound to express a dominant style, which ties it to a particular time and place. Where symmetries of any kind are present in art they will be intimately involved with the particulars of a style, since symmetry, in art as elsewhere, is an organising principle. It would seem that humans are symmetryconscious creatures we are patternseekers by nature, so symmetry principles are never entirely absent as a consideration in art generally. The role of ratio, proportion and symbolism in the Fine arts and architecture is examined later see page 50, but broadly speaking, it is in the decorative arts where symmetrical arrangements are most in evidence. The arts of tribal people just about everywhere use the basic symmetry functions of reflection and rotation. Bilateral arrangements in particular are an effective way of organising a composition, a method widely used in both primitive and advanced societies. Dihedral symmetries are also widespread, finding their ultimate expression in the fine rosewindows of Gothic cathedrals 10. There are, however, great cultural variations in the role of symmetry in art. In some it plays a small part, while others thoroughly explore its possibilities. Interestingly, this fascination or the lack of it, applies across a whole range of societies, from tribal to those more advancedright up to the present in fact. Naturally, those artistic traditions whose taste inclined toward symmetry have always tended to develop a richer vocabulary in this respect, and have explored a greater range of decorative possibilities. 1. Pueblo pottery 2. Celtic strainer 3. Inca plate 4. Islamic motif 5. Seljuk mosaic 6. Romanesque device 7. Persian ceramic 9. Detail of Ainu coat 8. Box Nth. Pacific coast 10.
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