Why Some Shapes Are More Pleasing to the Eye Than Others

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The ancient
Egyptian pyramids, the Parthenon of Athens, Mona Lisa’s face
and the head of George Clooney all have one thing in common. Their
attractiveness is said to be based on the “golden ratio”,
which is supposed to be the most aesthetically pleasing shape to
the human eye.

The golden
ratio, also known as the divine proportion, produces a shape similar
to a widescreen television or a cinema screen and describes a rectangle
with a length roughly one and half times its width. The proportion
is said to pervade art, architecture and nature.

The modernist
architect Le Corbusier used the golden ration for conferring harmonius
proportions on everything from door handles to high-rise buildings,
whereas the surrealist painter Salvadore Dali deliberately incorporated
the rule into his painting Sacrament of the Last Supper.

Now a theoretical
mathematician has come up with what he believes is a possible reason
why the human eye finds shapes in these proportions so particularly
appealing. It comes down to how easy it is for the eye and the brain
to scan such an image for important details, based on our evolutionary

Professor Adrian
Bejan of Duke University in North Carolina said that the golden
ratio – which was first identified mathematically by Euclid
in 3rd Century BC – just happens to be the most efficient shape
for visual scanning, which could explain why it is behind so many
works of art and architectural wonders.

you look at what so many people have been drawing and building,
you see these proportions everywhere. It is well known that the
eyes take in information more efficiently when they scan side-to-side,
as opposed to up and down,” Professor Bejan said.

left to right is five times faster than scanning up and down and
that is largely due to the left or right eye taking over when the
opposite eye gives up. When you scan vertically, it’s like
having just one eye. The eyes are also arranged on a horizontal
axis, which happens to fit in with the landscape,” he said.

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29, 2009

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