Have you ever wondered why we are cleaning, arranging and decorating our house? Easy… because we like it that way! After all you can’t be living in trash, can you? (You’re supposed to answer ‘No’ here).
But why do we like stylish clothes? Why are we following the latest fashion? Why do we care about losing weight, doing sports and having a good-looking body? Again, it’s easy… because we want to be attractive, to please ourselves and to please others.
But then, why do people like to be surrounded by attractive, beautiful people and a beautiful environment? Easy again… we just like it! And why do we like that so much? Why does it give us a kind of pleasure to look at beautiful things? Haah! Not that easy anymore…
Well, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that it’s Abraham Maslow again who has the answer. And the answer is in his extended pyramid of needs. One of the later added levels in the pyramid is the level with the aesthetic needs. This is the sixth level and is following the ‘Cognitive needs’ level.
People feel the need for beautiful and esthetically pleasing things. By the way, this isn’t limited to visually pleasing things. It can be pleasing one or several of our five senses.
Do you like a delicious meal with fine drinks while listening to your favourite music? Or do you like to go for a walk at the sea side, in the mountains, in the woods or on a large prairie, enjoying landscapes that only mother nature could create? I know I like all of that!
Apparently after we climbed the whole pyramid (Physiological needs, Safety and security needs, Love and belonging needs, Esteem needs and Cognitive needs) and before we get to self-actualisation, we feel the need to surround ourselves with beauty.
Actually we need this so much that we start to create things that we find beautiful and we start to arrange our environment and make it more beautiful, a.k.a decorating.
But what makes something beautiful? Another not so easy question!
Les goûts et les couleurs…
In French they say: “Les goûts et les couleurs ne se discutent pas”. This means that taste and colours should not be questioned.
While we all agree that we enjoy beautiful things, what is beautiful and what is not is a personal experience. What is beautiful to me can be ugly to you and vice versa.
However… there are things that, when we see them, we all recognise as being beautiful. And although beauty is a difficult thing for scientists to grasp, because it’s so subjective, there must be some universal laws for what is beautiful and what is not.
The universal laws of beauty
What do the following things have in common: The pyramids in Egypt, the Parthenon in Athens, Leonardo Da Vinci Man’s body in a pentagram and paintings of Salvador Dalí?
While they are all very different, they all use a certain order, symmetry, and/or structure. The size of the Parthenon and its parts are based on the golden ratio. So is Leonardo Da Vinci Man’s body in a pentagram. Salvador Dalí’s ‘Nature morte vivante’ is based on the Fibonacci sequence.
Symmetry is geometry! The golden ratio, the Fibonacci sequence? This is math! And where in nature do we find more of this? Crystals and quasicrystals can have beautiful geometrical forms. Shell spirals are based on the Fibonacci sequence and golden ratio (there’s a mathematical link between them). The same goes for seed heads of flowers, cauliflowers and pine cones. Even the spirals of galaxies follow the same logic.
Although nature looks completely random, it follows very strict mathematical formulas. In fact, nothing is more structured than nature itself. We love balance, order, symmetry and structure. And it’s beautiful, isn’t it?