Why do some shapes look better than others?

When I was an undergraduate I was taken with aesthetics. And especially with Clive Bell’s notion of “significant form.” The idea that some shapes simply look better than others, eternally and universally, as he said. Kant had said so, too, but the idea never really stuck.  Why? Because of it’s circularity. Who, after all, gets to decide what shapes look better – art critics, those “in the know”? If so, what happens to the idea of  universality?Picture1

But now, the “century of the brain” invites a  revisit.

The Walters has partnered with the  Mind/Brain Institute at Hopkins in an  exhibition/experiment that will open at the  WAM in January (thewalters.org). It’s called  Beauty and the Brain. Our colleagues at the Mind/Brain Institute, under Professor Ed Connor, have supplied groupings of 3D shapes that are “morphed,” in some cases (as illustrated), from original works of art by the French/German sculpture Jean Arp.

Visitors will put on old-fashioned 3D glasses, look at the groupings, and choose the 3D shapes that they find most and least appealing.

The project is based on the idea that artists are “intuitive neuroscientists,” always searching for new and more powerful ways to stimulate the visual brain. And that there is, in fact, a neural reality to “significant form.”

Our goal is to begin to understand how people recognize and appreciate beauty, which lies at the heart of the museum experience.

Here, you’ve got 15 variant forms to choose from. Which do you like the most, and which the least?

1 thought on “Why do some shapes look better than others?”

  1. Very cool… I remember seeing on a TV news program once about how babies even respond to aesthetically pleasing forms. Presented with human faces, they tended to like the symmetrical ones best. It’s just really fascinating how the mind works — in all of us.

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