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The Elements of Dynamic Symmetry (Dover Art Instruction) Paperback – June 1, 1967

3.9 out of 5 stars 17 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From the Back Cover

Is design intuitive or is it consciously and methodically worked out? Are there basic rules governing design that, when learned, will facilitate the creative process? These questions have been asked by artists, art historians, and art critics throughout the ages.
Convinced that design was not purely instinctive, Jay Hambidge (1867–1924) spent much of his life searching for the technical bases of design. He found his answer in dynamic symmetry, one of the most provocative and stimulating theories in art history. Hambidge's study of Greek art convinced him that the secret of the beauty of Greek design was in the conscious use of dynamic symmetry—the law of natural design based upon the symmetry of growth in man and in plants. But Hambidge, who was not only a theoretician but also a practicing artist, did much more than analyze classical art and its principles of design: he worked out a series of root rectangles that the artist, using the simple mathematics supplied in this book, can easily follow and apply in his own work.
Originally published as a series of lessons in Hambidge's magazine, The Diagonal, this engrossing book explains all the basic principles of dynamic symmetry. Part I sets forth the fundamental rectangles with their simple divisions based on the proportioning law found in nature; Part II explains compound rectangles, many of which were taken from or suggested by analysis of objects of Greek art.
Whether read for its historical importance in art theory, for its illuminating insights into Greek art, or for its practical value to today's artists and commercial designers, The Elements of Dynamic Symmetry has much to offer anyone who is interested in the principle of design.
Dover republication of the third (1948) edition.

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Product Details

  • Series: Dover Art Instruction
  • Paperback: 174 pages
  • Publisher: Dover Publications (June 1, 1967)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0486217760
  • ISBN-13: 978-0486217765
  • Product Dimensions: 5.3 x 0.5 x 8.7 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 9.1 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (17 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #247,246 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Paperback
Hambidge writes about design principles found in nature which can be applied to the work of the artist and designer. Since the time of the ancient Egyptians, these compositional techniques have been used to give proportion, symmetry, and beauty to buildings, sculpture, paintings, etc. Because of their complexity and rigor, the principles are no longer taught widely, but they are useful for any artist or designer interested in making compositions which appeal to humans' unconscious sense of proportion. The book is old, and a little difficult to understand, but Dover has reproduced it well.
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Format: Paperback
I purchased this book because an artist friend of mine was using the term "dynamic symmetry" while evaluating my paintings for an art exhibit in Colorado. He concluded that my paintings were of outstanding quality, as he could see that I had used "dynamic symmetry" in all my compositions. I did not know that term, so I guess this is something I have done intuitively for many years without even realizing it. An artist friend and mentor of his was very much into this concept for his own paintings, and would "mark" his surface before beginning any drawings or applying the first stroke of paint to a canvas. Even though I have a degree in Art Education, I have never heard anyone use this term before, so I did a search and found this book. I am also very much into detail, so, fortunately, the book offers great explanation and disgrams of all the different types of symmetry that can be seen in both the natural and creative worlds. I find this book to be highly intriguing, yet very technical, so find a quiet place and be prepared to apply a great deal of concentration while reading it. I am still in the process of reading this book. I may try to "conscientiously" apply this "dynamic symmetry" to some of my artwork, once I get it all figured out, though I prefer painting intuitively. I hope this newfound knowledge will not cause me to be overly analytical when creating my own artwork or enjoying other artists' creations, but the book truly is fascinating. P.S. Break out your straight edge and compass. Doing a little drawing will help you understand these concepts more easily.
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Format: Paperback
The concept of Phi (The Golden Ratio) is the foundation of classical art and design. They're somewhat simple principles that can yield a complex array of artistic applications. Elements of Dynamic Symmetry is full of useful knowledge on this subject, but is definitely not for beginners.

If you're unfamiliar with Phi and the Golden Ratio by no means should you start with this book. The writing is very dense and confusing, with little more than dry diagrams to illustrate points. And it doesn't help that the author constantly refers to the Golden Rectangle by the more arcane term "Rectangle of the Whirling Squares."

It does go into more detail than other books I've read on the subject. Even if a fair bit of it was flying over my head I did learn some geometric relationships and ways to construct forms that I hadn't seen before.

The actual artistic (or even scientific) application of all this is effectively nonexistent in this book. In the end you'll know many ways to construct and arrange these elements, but have no idea what to do with them.

I'd personally recommend Geometry of Design, Revised and Updated (Design Briefs) as a good starter book on learning this stuff and using this book to extend your knowledge later on.
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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
The ideas discussed in this book have become paramount to how I approach graphic design. It is very mathy, so don't go into this as an artist and expect it will make any sense to you if you aren't comfortable with geometry, numbers, ratios, and the like.
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For the price, artists who want to study a slice of the elementary math behind projective geometry and their static creations could do a lot worse. The author (in 1919!) discovered that the Greeks used "dynamic" in Geometry to refer to ratio and proportion, which pleased him since he coined that term for his book before discovering this, but the actual translation of the word (Dunamaei) is closer to "power" -- as in X^2, bisecting the square, etc.

A LOT of this little book is about spirals, proportions and bisecting rectangles. Today, "dynamic" systems in math refer to differential equations and time series that DO mimic nature-- as in population curves, birth/death sims, etc. (technically, point variance with time). This is NOT the use in this book-- symmetry is actually pretty static in the sense used here. Of course there also are over 600 primary articles on Wiki starting with the word "dynamic" so much has changed since 1919! Back then, "dynamic" in art/math meant a type of mental "animation" where, for example, repeated symmetrical bisections could produce a "golden ratio" spiral, etc.

Nevertheless, I'm always pleased when Dover or any other publisher takes the risk of publishing ANY math that connects to visuals. And in fact, this one is easily comprehensible by an average High School audience. For example, it doesn't look at symmetry in today's terms at all (Group Theory), and actually doesn't even seem to realize that symmetry is the ability to rotate without changing the visual! For more advanced, but still inexpensive math on symmetry, try Chapter 7 in Stewart: Concepts of Modern Mathematics.
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