Sunday, December 18, 2016

Figuring beauty

I have been turning on a treadle lathe for three years now, mostly over the summers and holidays, with periods of intense production followed by weeks (if not months) away from turning.  I would prefer to turn more consistently.  I often have to make a few "old" mistakes before getting back on my game.  That said, the time away does allow for reflection--to handle the bowls, to put them through their paces, to see what works, what doesn't, how they look and function with age and use.  My home is now full of bowls, of all shapes and sizes, and they get a lot of use.  My girls grab them for cereal in the mornings and ice cream in the evenings, invariably giving them back full of dried residue that needs to be scrubbed clean.  The bowls are taking on character, and I am learning more and more about what I like and what I don't.  I am starting to build an aesthetic.

Having a firm idea of what you think is beautiful, of what form you are chasing, is vital when you step up to the lathe.  Wille Sundqvist says that carving involves removing all material that is not part of the spoon, but that of course implies that you have a pretty good sense of what you are after.

In thinking about what makes something beautiful, it is tempting to look for formulas that explain beauty.  After reading "By Hand and Eye" by George Walker and Jim Tolpin I began to wonder about proportion and beauty in my bowls and spoons.  Are forms more beautiful when there is a proportional relationship between the dimensions?  Is one proportion more beautiful than another?  Euclid offers up one proportion, the Golden Mean (1:1.618), and Fibonacci's sequence arrives at a similar relationship.  Are these the proportions that I find beautiful?

As a simple exercise, I decided to study two of my bowls that I find beautiful. I purposely chose bowls that have very different forms.

I love the way the rim comes in slightly, giving a sense of "protection" or "privacy."

I love the way this rim flares out,  giving this bowl an open feel, and yet the inner chamfer lends a sort of mystery or privateness to the bowl.
The Fibonacci Sequence sheds no light on this bowl.

And not here either.

No Golden Mean here...

...or here.

For a while I tried using dividers that might help me envision perfect proportions between the base, the height and the rim of the bowls, and found that the results did not look right at all.

So I am back to square one, which is fine by me...
I would be sad if it all came down to a formula.

For a much more interesting reflection on a similar subject, see Dave Fisher's post on "Measuring Beauty."

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