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Beautiful Minds

Beautiful Minds

Insights into intelligence, creativity, and the mind

Do Painters Peak at the Golden Mean?

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"Beauty is truth, truth beauty," -- that is all

Ye know on earth, and all ye need to know.

-- John Keats

The golden mean, or divine proportion, has fascinated philosophers, mathematicians, artists, and scientists for centuries. Represented as a fraction by the decimal .6180 (to four decimal places), ancient Greek philosophers believed that this ratio is truth and beauty. Some even believe it's a fundamental characteristic of the universe.

Indeed, the Golden Mean does appear in the most astounding places.

From shells:

To hurricanes:

To spiral galaxies:

To rose petals:

To koala bears:

To butterflies:

To the human face:

But does human creativity also conform to the golden mean?

P.H. Franses, professor of applied econometrics in the Netherlands, looked at the peak level of creativity among 189 of the most famous modern art painters who created art between 1800-2004. Creativity researchers tend to look at absolute age of peak creativity, but curiously, no one has looked at relative age ("defined as the age of the top creation divided by the total lifespan").

On average, each painter was 41.92 years old when he or she created his or her most expensive art.

What fraction of their lives was this, on average? The mean age at which the most expensive work of these artists was created divided by the year of death minus year of birth, was 0.6198:

According to Franses, this is "only 0.0018 away from the divine fraction."

Make of it what you will. See paper here.

© 2013 Scott Barry Kaufman, All Rights Reserved

images credit: io9; goldennumber.net [nature, art]; knowknowledge.com; phimatrix.com; fabiovisentin.com; huffingtonpost.com; tehcute.com

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.

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