Symmetry and Symmetry-Breaking - An Approach to Understanding Beauty

Carol Bier
Renaissance Banff: Mathematics, Music, Art, Culture (2005)
Pages 219–226


Considering the relationship of symmetry and beauty, the author examines three textiles from the collection of Doris Duke at Shangri La in Honolulu. Referring to abstract expressionism of the 20th century as antithetical to symmetry, and the Arts & Crafts Movement of the 19th century as countering the insistency of industrial mass production, Bier explores the relative roles of symmetry and symmetry-breaking in the construction of three embroideries (called suzani, after the Persian and Tajik word for “needlework”), using as her point of departure a recent research initiative, the Shangri La Suzani Project. The study of colors, motifs, stitches, designs and patterns suggests the identification of a local aesthetic preference for local symmetries without global symmetry, and global symmetries without local symmetry. These embroideries typify styles associated with Bukhara in the 19th century. The results of this research lead to more general consideration of symmetry and symmetry-breaking in the construction of beauty.