Jessica Crabtree

Patterns in Art: The Golden Section

by on May.18, 2011, under Artist Tip Bag

The Golden Ratio is a mathematical relationship in which the ratio of the larger portion to the smaller is the same as the larger portion to the whole. While the number itself is irrational and goes on indefinitely, it is usually rounded to 1.618.

As in many other cases, underlying mathematical patterns in a structure or design often result in an aesthetically pleasing visual form. The mathematical properties of this proportion have fascinated scholars as long as mathematics has been around. vitruvian manThey can be observed in the designs of Egyptian pyramids and in Greek monuments (naturally the Greeks were fascinated with it and today it is represented numerically by a letter of their alphabet).

It was all the rage during the Renaissance, as studies like mathematics were being rediscovered with new zest, and humankind’s natural instinct to find patterns in the world went into overdrive. Renaissance men like da Vinci saw mathematical ratios everywhere – mona lisa proportionsfrom to the proportions of the human body – and incorporated them into their art and architecture. In fact we get the term “divine ratio” from a friend of his, a monk and scholar named Luca Pacioli, who felt he had found God’s formula for ultimate beauty.

Even before the Renaissance, the medieval mathematician Fibonacci (drawing off of Eastern scholars) uncovered a sequence of numbers that follows this very same ratio. Ever since then, scientists have found more and more ways that this ratio is ingrained in the behaviors of the natural world. The Fibonacci spiral, as an example, is visible in everything from the arrangements of flower petals to the strands of our DNA.

Photo from

Whatever our motives in uncovering the patterns that exist in nature – the fact remains that we find them irresistible. Consciously or not, artists constantly borrow from the patterns that make up the natural world. Every time we create art, we recreate nature ourselves on a very small scale – as if by reproducing it we are somehow able to master it. It’s ironic that Renaissance man tried so hard to find divine patterns in himself to prove that he was a superior part of nature. Nature is so very big and we are really such a small part of it. That begs the question, Is art a product of man or of nature? Is nature the art or the artist?

“Art is the imposing of a pattern on experience, and our aesthetic enjoyment is recognition of the pattern.” (Alfred Whitehead North)

fibonacci galaxyThinkQuest: The Fibonacci Series – more on Fibonacci sequences, da Vinci, and patterns in art

Mathematicians Pictures – lots of interesting posters related to math patterns in art, architecture, etc.

Wikipedia: The Golden Ratio

Space photo from

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About Me

I am a freelance artist living in Arkansas, US, specializing in historical portraits of American Indians. I blog about the portrayal and influence of Native Americans in art, history, and the media.

I am fascinated by history and world cultures, ancient and modern, and particularly indigenous peoples. My other interests include wildlife ecology, environmental issues & sustainability, journalism, photography, web design & development. I enjoy music and reading (see my book list here).

You can see some of my pastel work, and my drawings in charcoal and graphite, by visiting my online Gallery.