Numbers and Symmetry

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This Agnes Martin piece has both odd and even rows with 18 across and 7 up/down.  They create both tension and a send of calm.  Is it symmetrical in one direction and not in another?   Is symmetry only even in number or as in the case of the 7 rows, symmetrical because there is one in the middle and 3 on each side.

It’s an interesting piece. As you can see in the first version, the symmetry is bilateral - that is, the two sides are more or less mirror-images. The middle mark in the odd rows (17) falls directly on the center line. And the even rows are divided in half by the center line.

But when you draw a line across the piece horizontally, dividing it into four equal parts, the marks don’t line up perfectly. They are close, but slightly off. This is where the tension comes from, even though the piece is essentially a calm, “centering”  composition.

You could liken  symmetry that’s just slightly “off” to the human body. We are essentially bilaterally designed creatures, but you’ve probably seen an image where a face is divided down the middle and then one side is used for both sides. The person no longer looks like herself! The subtle differences aren’t obvious, so we appear to be symmetrical, but when it comes down to it, we’re all a little “off”…isn’t that comforting?

Kidding aside, this is a smart use of asymmetry imposed on what is an essentially a symmetrical background, in order to set up that nuanced tension.

Thanks for sharing this!