"Nature is the art of God."—so said Sir Thomas Browne , a 17th-century physician. To illustrate this a woman who lives in Spain, vividly recalls one November evening several years ago when she stood beside a remote lake and watched the sunset. "Flying toward me came wave after wave of cranes calling to each another," she says. "Thousands of birds were strung out across the crimson sky in spidery patterns. Their annual migratory journey from Russia and Scandinavia had brought them to this Spanish resting-place. The experience was so beautiful that it made me cry." Beauty is evident everywhere we look. Iridescent colors are especially common in hummingbirds. What makes their plumage so dazzling? The top third of their unique feathers breaks up the sunlight into distinct rainbow like colors—somewhat like a prism does. Common names of hummingbirds, such as ruby, sapphire, and emerald, aptly testify to the glittering reds, blues, and greens that adorn these jewel like birds. "What is the purpose of the magnificent loveliness of these exquisite creatures?" asks Sara Godwin in her book Hummingbirds. "As far as science can determine, it has no purpose on earth except to dazzle the beholder," she replies. "Flowers," said the English statesman William Wilberforce, "are God’s thoughts of beauty, taking form to gladden mortal gaze;—bright gems of earth, in which, perchance, we see what Eden was—what Paradise may be!" Paul Davies, in his book The Mind of God, explains that "even hard-nosed atheists frequently have what has been called a sense of reverence for nature, a fascination and respect for its depth and beauty and subtlety, that is akin to religious awe."
A sense of beauty is one of the many attributes that distinguish mankind from the animals. The work Summa Artis—Historia General del Arte (Comprehensive Treatise of Art—A General History of Art) points out that "man could be defined as the animal that has an aesthetic capacity." The book The Painter’s Eye, by Maurice Grosser, explains that "the painter draws with his eyes, not with his hands. Whatever he sees, if he sees it clear, he can put down. . . . Seeing clear is the important thing."
The Golden Empress
Ancient Chinese legends tell of a golden age in the days of Huang-Ti (Yellow Emperor), who is said to have ruled for a hundred years in the 26th century B.C.E. He was credited with inventing everything having to do with civilization—clothing and shelter, vehicles of transportation, weapons and warfare, land management, manufacturing, silk culture, music, language, mathematics, the calendar, and so on. During his reign, it is said, "there were no thieves nor fights in China, and the people lived in humility and peace. Timely rain and weather resulted in abundant harvest year after year. Most amazing was that even the wild beasts did not kill, and birds of prey did no harm. In short, the history of China began with a paradise." To this day, the Chinese still claim to be the descendants of the Yellow Emperor. In Greek mythology, the first of the "Five Ages of Man" was called the "Golden Age." In it humans lived happy lives, free from toil, pain, and the ravages of old age.
Hesiod’s poem Works and Days speaks of the Five Ages of Man, the first of which was the "Golden Age" when men enjoyed complete happiness. He wrote:
"The immortal gods, that tread the courts of heaven,
First made a golden race of men.
Like gods they lived, with happy, careless souls,
From toil and pain exempt; nor on them crept
Wretched old age, but all their life was passed
In feasting, and their limbs no changes knew."
Persians, Egyptians, Tibetans, Peruvians, and Mexicans all have legends about a time of happiness and perfection at the beginning of mankind’s history. The Avesta, the sacred book of the ancient Persian Zoroastrian religion, tells about "the fair Yima, the good shepherd," who was the first mortal with whom Ahura Mazda (the creator) conversed. He was instructed by Ahura Mazda "to nourish, to rule, and to watch over my world." To do so, he was to build "a Vara," an underground abode, for all the living creatures. In it, there "was neither overbearing nor mean-spiritedness, neither stupidity nor violence, neither poverty nor deceit, neither puniness nor deformity, neither huge teeth nor bodies beyond the usual measure. The inhabitants suffered no defilement from the evil spirit. They dwelt among odoriferous trees and golden pillars; these were the largest, best and most beautiful on earth; they were themselves a tall and beautiful race."
According to the account in the Bible the last creation of god was a wife and complement, a helper, for the man he had created. Many a great human artist produced their greatest work last. So it could be said that at least that one particular women who was the wife of the Golden Emperor, Adam, and thus was the Golden Empress, was likely the most beautiful of creation. Her beauty was twofold. She was a two sided mirror: one side reflected all the beauty of the universe, and the other side reflected the invisible beauty of God. Thus the greatest beauty of a beautiful woman is not merely the proportions, colors, and textures of her form, but in the way she uses her mind, and the quality of her heart. The Golden Empress did not make a good choice, and because of this choice she never realized the infinite potential of her mind. Today an artist could spend a lifetime studying the most beautiful women in the world, and in trying to find a common basis for understanding what makes a women beautiful, but would likely find the other side of the mirror lacking in many of the subjects of his study.
The beauty on the hidden side of the mirror is manifest not by something that I as an artist could portray, but by the endearing traits displayed in everyday life that makes a person pleasant to be around, valued as a friend, and great, not just in the way of looks, but also in the measure of what they are as a human being. Thus some of these valuable qualities are: courage, faith, humility, generosity, kindness, patience, and love for others, shown by empathy and hospitality.
The Bible book Song of Solomon tells of a beautiful young country girl, a Shulammite, who was in love with a local shepherd boy. Her beauty attracted the attention of the king, and he had her brought to Jerusalem in hopes of making her his wife. This was a great opportunity for a young woman in that time period and culture and the other women of her time urged her to accept the offer of marriage. Solomon, the King of her country, was the richest and wisest man in the world .There in Jerusalem, she could exploit her good looks to find favor with her husband and gain a position of wealth, power, and influence in the kingdom. But the young girl resolutely spurned the flattering advances of the king. She turned her back on the glitter and wealth of Jerusalem and remained faithful to her shepherd boy with his limited material prospects. In her case, beauty was not one sided. She was not shallow, opportunistic, or greedy. Rather, she had an inner beauty, a reflection of the other side of the mirror, that her ancestress Eve lacked. Her loyal love and unwavering devotion to the ordinary man she loved revealed that her inner beauty was the equal to the beauty she possessed on the outside. The difference in the two is that, in the world as we know it now, beauty on the outside is transitory, but when it is found on the other side of the mirror, and kept polished, then it becomes ever brighter and greater through time.
The woman of today who is exceedingly beautiful is likely to be spoiled; perhaps not so much because of her own vanity as because of the selfishness her beauty arouses in others. Both in men or women, for different reasons. It may be true that she receives too much praise. Likewise those who idolize beauty, and who put it above the invisible qualities, might be likened to those ancient worshipers of beauty, the Greeks. Thus the historian Lord tells us that "the real objects of Greek worship were beauty, grace and heroic strength." And a leading religious encyclopedia says: "The Greeks were eminent for their appreciation of beauty in all its varieties; indeed, their religious creed owed its shape mainly to this peculiarity of their mind." Their religious deities being immoral , shallow, one-sided and selfish, was incidental to them, so long as these were beautiful.
Isolating the Elements of Beauty
Paul Dirac said "God is a mathematician of a very high order, and He used very advanced mathematics in constructing the universe."
Wherever we might look, or what we might hear, that we might describe as beautiful, is an arrangement of some sort, based on principles, and a carefully balanced order and contrast between variety, and the uniform adherence to physical constants. The beauty we admire in plants, animals, and in people is always based in various ways upon mathematics, because beauty is mathematical in the way it is arranged; even if we do not consciously think about it. Even the people who hate math or know nothing about it appreciate the forms and colors and sounds which are very mathematical in some , or various ways. To look through a powerful telescope into the universe is to confront beauty no matter which way we look, and here on our planet a beautiful garden is based on, or an enlargement of , the principles of beauty observed in our landscapes. The Chinese characters for "landscape" are "mountain" and "water" , and the characters for "garden" is "rock" and "water", and thus the thought is that a garden is a small composition of nature.
Proportions. What is it that makes a face beautiful? The chief trait of beauty are the proportions of the features and of them to each other, and their proportions in the face. The most important aspects of a beautiful building or of a garden design are largely a matter of proportions, as well as textures, colors, and various features. It is to a large degree her proportions, in face and figure, which makes a beautiful woman appear to be so. In the Bible men are called beautiful also, and when their looks are remarked on it is usually their proportions which are described, and then their countenance, and in the case of Absalom; the special feature of his hair.
Forms and Patterns. We live in a world of multiple forms, not only size and shape, but also the type of form such as hard or soft, static or dynamic. Chaos and order are not exclusive to each other but are different facets of the same gem we call the "ko'smos", or the order of the physical universe. Some forms are linear like the columns of a clump of bamboo or geometric like a spider’s web, or the diatoms' crystal snowflake-like cell, whereas others are shapeless like a cloud that changes constantly. there are the various forms of crystals and colors as well as different ways they reflect or refract light. Many forms are attractive, whether they be an exotic orchid, the spirals of a seashell, or even the branches of a tree that has shed its leaves.
I love the texture and forms of some of the ornamental grasses, and every type of tree has a distinctive silhouette caused by the manner of its growth, such as for example, whether the tree is opposite or alternate leaved. Look at the spiral patterns found in everything from flowers to snails. Many , if not all, of these forms have a mathematical basis in their design, and it is this math which appeals to our mind as beautiful. When the same form is repeated, it creates a pattern that may also be visually appealing. For example, imagine a stand of tree trunks in a forest. Their forms—each one different, yet similar—create a pleasing pattern. Once when I stood in a grove of Aspens. I looked at their white trunks reflecting the shafts of pure sunlight through the roof of the forest like some form of temple, and the green sparkling shadows filtered through the leaves waving their shiny side in the sun. Then on a nearby mountainside I saw a deer running and leaping across and up the slope. There was a form of slender and graceful beauty to the deer and a ballet to the way it ran and leaped with the power of beauty.
Light. The distribution of light gives a special quality to the forms we find attractive. Details are highlighted, the texture is colored, and a mood is created. Light varies, in color and quality, according to the time of day, the season of the year, the weather, and even the place where we live. A cloudy day with its diffused light is ideal for appreciating the subtle tones of wildflowers or autumn leaves, whereas the crags and peaks of a mountain range show off their dramatic forms when sculptured by the rising or setting sun. The soft, wintry sunlight of the Northern Hemisphere lends romance to a pastoral landscape. On the other hand, the bright sun of the Tropics converts the shallow sea into a transparent wonderland for snorkelers. The decrease of light, or the opposite of it, is shadow, and the colors and quality of shadows vary in several ways. In drawing it is shadow that reveals and describes the form and texture of what we draw.
Color. It gives life to the different objects we see around us. While their form may distinguish them, their color highlights their uniqueness. Furthermore, the distribution of color in harmonious patterns creates its own beauty. It may be a vibrant color like red or orange that cries out for our attention, or a relaxing color like blue or green. Color affects our emotions and adds both variety and understanding to what we see.
Imagine a patch of yellow flowers in a glade. The light catches the yellow blossoms, which seem to glow in the morning air, while dark tree trunks fringed by the morning sun form a perfect backdrop. Now we have a picture. All we need to do is "frame" it, which is where composition comes in.
Composition. The way in which the three basic elements—form, light, and color—combine determines the composition. The view point, the place of it , and the angle through which we see through it, determines how we see the composition which is there. Just by moving slightly forward, backward, to one side, higher, or lower, we can adjust the elements or the lighting in our picture. We can thus crop the picture to include only the elements that we desire. A beautiful landscape is well composed, and in garden design the composition, how the elements are arranged and fit together, is more important than the content, the individual elements, of the garden. It has been said that the difference between a gardener and a landscaper is that a gardener tends to be a collector of different plants and find a place where they will fit; while a landscaper uses relatively few different plants and is concerned more with the overall look than with having one of everything. The landscaper then is a composer, just as a composer of music works with sound, the landscape designer composes a three dimensional living arrangement of beauty. A painter likewise has the opportunity to make whatever changes that skill and imagination allow.
Details and The Grand View
When we look at even ordinary things, a closer view, the picture within the picture, reveals more layers of beauty, and these pictures within a picture are described by photographer John Shaw in his book Closeups in Nature: "It never ceases to amaze me that a close view of a natural detail always invites an even closer view. . . . First we see the great vista, then a patch of color in one corner of the frame. A closer look reveals flowers and, on one flower, a butterfly. Its wings reveal a distinct pattern, the pattern is produced by a precise arrangement of wing scales, and each scale is perfect in and of itself. If we could truly understand the perfection that makes up that one butterfly wing scale, we could conceivably start to understand the perfection of the scheme that is nature."
William Blake once wrote:
"To see a World in a Grain of Sand
And a Heaven in a Wild Flower,
Hold Infinity in the palm of your hand
And Eternity in an hour."
Even a grain of sand has a signature of the beauty of the universe, if we look close enough, and if we look within it, we can imagine everything else.
Giovanni Battista Agucchi noted "The most worthy painters, without departing from the likeness, have aided nature with art. They have portrayed the faces as more beautiful and more noteworthy than in life, indicating, even in this kind of work, a recognition of that greater beauty."
And Leonardo da Vinci said "Whatever exists in the universe, whether in essence, in act, or in the imagination, the painter has first in his mind and then in his hands".
If the painter or other artist may be allowed to interpret the beauty of the universe through the filter and imagination of his own mind, and the composition of his imagination, then the result reveals a measure of the beauty which dwells in his mind, or the lack thereof. Thus the artist is not just a camera, who captures the most accurate representation of what they see, but is a part and element of the beauty of the painting.