In this article, we examine the significance of the Goldern Ratio in Ancient Greek painting, as well as its meaning and how it influenced Greek artists.
The Ancient Greek Period saw such explosive growth in the visual arts that its legacy would dominate subsequent centuries.
- 1 Where did Ancient Greek Art get its Inspiration From?
- 2 When Comparing Their Respective Schools of Thought, did Plato and Aristotle Find Common Ground?
- 3 Style and Function
- 4 What’s the Deal if Something is Merely Pretty and Not Functional?
- 5 Expression of One’s Own Ideas or Eemulation of Others?
- 6 A Further Conundrum: Defining Colour.
- 7 Greek Art Theories and Some Real-World Applications
- 8 Perspective
Where did Ancient Greek Art get its Inspiration From?
The prevailing philosophies of ancient Greece had a significant impact on the aesthetics that emerged from the culture at the time.
The philosophers of Ancient Greece had a theoretical view of colour and art, but the artists were more concerned with producing work that would sell.
One possible explanation is that the ancient Greeks lacked an appreciation for the arts. Techne, which means “skill” in Greek, was used to characterise art and other forms of expertise. Craftsmen included the visual and built arts.
The word “techne” embodies the first stages of what we now know as technology. It might be argued that the ideas of Plato and Aristotle played a role in the Ancient Greeks’ inextricable linking of aesthetics and practicality.
When Comparing Their Respective Schools of Thought, did Plato and Aristotle Find Common Ground?
The world, according to Plato (c. 429-347 BCE), is a poor, deteriorating replica of a perfect, rational, everlasting, and changeless original. That’s why natural wonders like flowers and sunsets can only ever serve as pointers to the ultimate ideal of beauty.
According to Plato’s The Republic, works of art are imitations of things and happenings found in everyday life. That’s because it’s a copy of a copy of perfection, making it an even greater illusion than life as we know it.
Art is a harmless diversion at best, and a potentially harmful illusion at worst. The ancient Greeks had a term for artistic imitation: mimesis (the representation of nature). We might conclude that Plato did not give much credence to the idea of “art being generated by divine inspiration.”
Conversely, Aristotle (384-322 BCE) thought of a “art” form as a technique to convey the significance or “essence” of anything. According to Aristotle, a work of art should be complete in itself and present a unified whole to the viewer.
Mimesis, which he defines as “the perfection and copy of nature,” is his way of summarising this. Art as imitation, then, makes use of mathematical concepts like symmetry, proportion, and perspective in the pursuit of the ideal, the eternal, and the opposing object.
Greeks valued harmony and harmony in form, and this informed their definition of beauty. This idea of achieving beauty through mathematical precision through the use of multiple artistic styles and techniques was pioneered by the Ancient Greeks and has influenced countless artists ever since.
You could say that before the Greeks, art was more abstract and formal, but that starting with them, realism became the foundation of visual expression.
Vasari wrote in his Lives of the Painters that the idea of imitation to produce realism through the capture of the essence of a form was still very prominent in the Renaissance.
Artists just try to recreate the natural world by recreating the colours and patterns found there.
Style and Function
Aesthetics (from the Greek aisthetikos, meaning “of sense perception”) was deeply important to the ancient Greeks. The Ancient Greeks placed considerable emphasis on aesthetics, the study of beauty. According to Plato, it represented the perfect.
In spite of their differences, Plato and Aristotle both agreed that works of art should strive to please the eye and serve some practical purpose.
Plato thought that an object’s aesthetic value was summed up in how well it served its intended function. Around this time, the connection between aesthetics and practicality began to form.
Four reasons were discussed in Aristotle’s writings. The original formal cause serves as the concept’s template. A second factor is the substance itself, or the stuff something is comprised of. The artist’s method of production is the third factor. The telos, or ultimate meaning, of something is the fourth factor.
The philosopher Aristotle believed that there ought to be a separation between art and reality. We have a conundrum when we think about functionality in these words.
What’s the Deal if Something is Merely Pretty and Not Functional?
Since artistic, artisanal, and technological practises all include evolution, the issue becomes clear. A block of marble can be transformed into a sculpture by a sculptor, a palette of paints can be transformed by an artist, and a piece of metal can be transformed into an implement by a craftsman with the help of tools and heat.
However, only two of these examples may properly be called art, while the third belongs to the realm of technology.
It would seem that there is a full break between the creative and technological communities.
One possible explanation is that artists seek to fix the present by making works that will last forever, while technicians hope to use their talents to go forward into the future and make discoveries that will evolve over time.
Technology, then, is all about progress—about making life better for everyone, about ushering in a new era of human development.
Expression of One’s Own Ideas or Eemulation of Others?
It’s possible that, even now, the idea of realism and beauty is the most widely held explanation for art. Isn’t that oversimplifying things though?
The art critic John Ruskin (1819-1900) made the following observation:
True to how they look to human eyes is how things are depicted in works of art.
However, not long after that, when asked if he painted what he saw, the artist Pablo Picasso (1881-1873) responded
“I only paint what I can see.”
One definition of art is to imitate what one sees, but Picasso’s muddles the problem by implying that true artistic invention comes from within the artist.
This shift has resulted in contemporary art focusing less on emulating other styles and more on expressing the creator’s inner thoughts and feelings. The artist may have come up with the idea and subject matter on their own, or they may be attempting to capture the essence of something they’ve observed.
The French impressionists are often credited with popularising this idea of art as expression by attempting to portray the essence of art via light. When an artist creates a work of art, he or she is doing more than only depicting a scene; they are also offering their own interpretation of the scene.
There is no longer any requirement for a painting or sculpture to depict a recognisable subject. It might be purely abstract, or it can be made up of abstract lines, shapes, and colours meant to convey the artist’s inner thoughts, imagination, or emotions.
Since symmetrical arrangements are generally considered to be harmonious, the Greek ideal may still be heard in these designs. The perception of colour as contrasts can be aesthetically pleasing when struck at just the right level of harmony.
A Further Conundrum: Defining Colour.
If light is something that is conveyed from an item to the eye, then the colour of that object is an inherent quality, just like its mass or flavour, according to Aristotle.
Each water droplet in a rainbow, according to Aristotle’s logic, serves as a miniature mirror. These mirrors are able to convert white light into various hues when they reflect the beam of light.
Consequently, it was hypothesised that the colours of a rainbow are somehow unique. Even though Aristotle understood how prisms separated light into its component colours, he still thought the glass was altering the light in some way.
White light may be broken down into its component colours of red, orange, yellow, green, blue, indigo, and violet, as demonstrated by Isaac Newton in the 17th century. White light resulted from his refocusing the spectrum with a lens, proving that a prism does not alter the wavelengths of light.
The ancient Greeks believed that different colours had different associations with the opposites of light and dark, such that yellow was associated with brightness and blue with the opposite. They also spent time trying to link pigment colours to the four Aristotelian components, which lead to the concept that mixed colours are inferior to the pure colours.
Since the tone and hue of a colour are altered by mixing it with another colour, and the resulting colour is sometimes brown or dark, this might be considered the origin of primary and secondary colours.
There are two primary colours often used nowadays. The first has to do with the additive primary colours of red, green, and blue, which are the colours of light that are projected.
Subtractive primaries, sometimes known as the “primary colours” of painting, are cyan, magenta, and yellow. These colours are derived from reflected light and are commonly referred to as blue-green, violet-red, and yellow by artists.
The concept of mimesis was fundamental to the development of art as a model for aesthetics in Ancient Greece.
Greek Art Theories and Some Real-World Applications
The Golden Age of Greece, beginning around the middle of the fifth century BCE, was characterised by some of the most stunning works of art and architecture in history.
We need to investigate the role geometry plays in the story to see how this represents the Greek concepts of art. The Golden Mean or Ratio was the first of a sequence of significant advances in geometry.
Architects like Phidias were well-versed in and made use of the principles of geometry and optics. “Success in art is attained by careful correctness in a myriad of mathematical proportions,” was their credo.
The precise geometric beauty of their structures represented the ideal. Athens was where geometry morphed into its own unique art style. Many philosophers were giving talks on such topics as geography, mathematics, and oratory.
They used a form of deductive reasoning and proofs called dialectics, which they had adapted from the geometry community.
The Greek mathematician Pythagoras (560-480 BCE) established a centre for mathematical research and education at the Academy of Athens. Pythagoras took a keen interest in human proportions, and he demonstrated that the Golden Ratio provided a foundation for these proportions.
Pythagoras’s findings greatly impacted Greek aesthetics. The Parthenon, possibly the best example of a quantitative approach to art, was built with this proportion in mind at every stage of its construction.
Even though Ictinus (c450-420 BCE) and Callicrates (fifth-century BCE) created the Parthenon (447-438 BCE) using mathematical concepts, no evidence suggests that they employed the golden ratio.
In keeping with Pythagorean advice, an even number of eight pillars were placed in front to ensure that no centre column obstructed the view, and 17 pillars were placed on either side where that was acceptable.
Some have even gone so far as to assert that the Parthenon was designed using the Golden Ratio. However as said, there is no substantial evidence to support this. There are many who have established that the Golden Ratio is also present when analysing the proportions of a great work of art. Is that intentional, or did someone’s creative eye spot it?
If an artist used the Golden Ratio, the result would be one of harmony and balance. The Parthenon was deemed the most aesthetically appealing structure in Greece, regardless of whether or not the golden ratio was used in its construction.
Phidias, the Greek sculptor, frequently used the Golden Ratio in his work. After Phidias, the golden ratio became widely used by painters such as Leonardo da Vinci (1452–1519). The Golden Ratio can be seen in the Mona Lisa, as has long been suspected.
Perspective, the technique used to create the optical illusion of depth in a two-dimensional image, was also a major breakthrough in the history of art. To achieve this effect, the artist must employ visual deceptions that lead the viewer to believe the object is three-dimensional.
The Greeks began experimenting with perspective in the 5th century BC as part of their theatrical performances.
Using skenographia, in which the depth of colour and foreshortening generated the illusion of depth, the artists gave the landscape the impression of depth. Unfortunately, the Ancient Greeks lacked a firm grasp of perspective in the realm of linear geometry.
The philosophers Anaxagoras (c500-428 BCE) and Democritus (c460-370 BCE) figured out some simple geometric theories of perspective for use with skenographia on the stage, but in art it was not so common other than in the use of colour, tone and hue.
To sum up, Ancient Greek art was inspired by the prevailing philosophies of the time, and there is evidence to support the claim that the Greeks viewed imitation as the key to creating good art, along with balance, proportion, and harmony in colour and structure to achieve aesthetic value.