Awhile back I went looking for other people’s thoughts about curves in art. At some point it occurred to me that the way curves are rendered , makes the difference between whether a work of art looks fluid and natural as opposed to stiff and labored. But what is it that makes one curve ‘good’ and another ‘bad’? I never did find any scientific or even philosophical answer that really satisfied me, so I am stuck with just knowing it when I see it, but in the course of my search I came across Hogarth’s Line of Beauty.
The artist William Hogarth wrote a book called The Analysis of Beauty. You can actually read the entire text online here. (Disclaimer: I have not read it) Hogarth proposed that the essence of beauty of line in painting, drawing, nature and design is not the simple geometry of a straight line or circle, or more subtle shapes such as the ellipse, but of curves that modulate from one gradient to another. Such a curve, the “S” curve is such a structure and he called it “the line of beauty”. According to his theory, S-Shaped curved lines signify liveliness and activity and excite the attention of the viewer as contrasted with straight lines, parallel lines, or right-angled intersecting lines which signify stasis, death, or inanimate objects. He goes on to say that the S curve is the basis of all great art.
Here is one of Hogarth’s paintings:
Do you see the line of beauty?
It becomes a bit of a visual game. I started looking for it. Can you find it in the following paintings?
Modigliani. (Sorry this is so small) Hint: look at the right side of her face and the left side of her right arm.
Look at your own work. Is it there? Should it be?
Here are some interesting links about curves and The Line of Beauty
Famous curves – I thought this was fascinating. Who knew particular curves were famous and had their own names?
The CSG Society – Opposing curves (trust me, this is not a porn site! It just looks a little dodgy at first glance.)
The Beauty of Curves – Observations about how the math of curves is reflected in the aesthetic of curves