Beauty = Law

“The mathematical sciences particularly exhibit order, symmetry and limitation; and these are the greatest forms of the beautiful.” - Aristotle

“Form follows function” is a general principle that always taught in design academy. However in fine art I don’t see any point applying function into form, the artwork will have a direct communication with the viewer thus narrowing the viewer’s number possibility of interpretation, especially to the form of abstract. The more narrow interpretation means the more disturbed the space of harmony of the viewer. Even applying a direct emotion is also a form of disruption. So in fine art, I slightly changed the rule into “Form follows value”, it still has the similar logical value acting as the function. Only in the form of an abstract, the overall composition should be neutral, so it would be fully opened to numbers of interpretation based on subjectivity. In contrary to realism which only speaks a certain or general thing because individuality of the interpreter exists in a little portion, it needs the artist’s role as an authoritarian thru visual clue in his/her artwork. Abstract is the most democratic art, but in my way the more free it is, the more chaotic it can become and from chaos, order will rise thru laws. This essay will review the principles I used in my art making process particularly for “Logical Aesthetic” exhibition. The principles I develop from Bauhaus, De Stijl & Grid System principles.

Neo-plasticism, De Stijl has found a way to express the ideal of spiritual harmony and order through the art. Art from the De Stijl movement advocated pure abstraction and universality by concentrating on subject matter. During the De Stijl movement, the artwork being created by artists gave off an anonymous and depersonalized feel as it was felt that the artist’s personality should not be shown on the artwork. The artworks avoid symmetry yet remains visually balance with the used of opposition.

Publicity leaflet for DIE NEUE TYPOGRAPHIE by Jan Tschichold, published on 1928, the typesetting layout was following grid system in a asymmetrical balance, between the elements and the white space. Hierarchy follows with the usage of grid system as the answer of its function: clear communication.

Source: "Grid Systems: Principles of Organizing Type" by Kimberly Elam

In 1918 Wilhem Ostwald published The Colour Primer journal, which brought various debate in Bauhaus. His theory basically assigned to shade gray as a key coordinate of “color space” as an addition to Paul Klee’s color theory which stressed the use of complementary pairs ( red-green, blue-orange, yellow-violet) and colors intimately relates to form. Those color theory was rather positively received by Piet Mondrian and his colleagues in the De Stijl in the early 20’s.

To achieve the harmonious balance in the asymmetrical composition, color in the space of form needs to be ruled by laws. Just like the universe, everything is controlled by the same law: physic. We perceive composition parallel to our understanding of physic, elements in the composition need to be in balanced so these elements could support themselves to resist the gravity. In art, physic doesn’t rule, it is substituted by value, our eyes need to be tricked to believe that the value is still in the realm of physic. Therefore the viewers are still in their comfort zone and the artwork will give them harmony. Harmony would be achieved with a simple measurement using grid system that acts as mathematical ruler. By using grid system we can calculate the algorithm of structural rhythm and it is the simpler way to balance all of the elements including the white space proportionally. The grid system is also a tool to arrange the elements into a hierarchy order. Hierarchy and rhythm will act as a guide to a certain emotion, which not just shown only by value.

How to measure balance with elements’ weight or elements’ value in asymmetrical composition, taken from Paul Klee Pedagogical Sketchbook

The visual content in my artworks only consist of the basic geometric elements: square, rectangle, triangle and circle. The value of those geometric elements is already strong enough without putting any non-formal properties such as stimulus background, content, time settings, event settings, including ownership of an artwork. Plato argued that “eidos” (or shape) of a thing included our perceptions of the thing, as well as those sensory aspects of a thing which the human mind can take in. With the rhythm, proportion and structure in the composition, our perception becomes wider, not just limited to the form value, but also the kinetic, the gravitational pull between the elements themselves therefore balancing themselves. These are a fundamental optical and structural order that had been obscured by centuries of literary allegorism.

In Logical Aesthetic series, Representation of Singularity, Isolation of Probability and Discovery of Irrational Balance, I applied these laws implying it into my educational background in design and my father’s influence as a Mathematic Lecturer. It is a combination between typesetting with the practice of grid system and geometry mathematic to find a right calculation to measure balance in the composition. Placing the harmony as the center of main objective, not to challenge the viewers but to provide them the most logical aesthetic that gives them pleasure to the eyes.

The Boolean Value and the Boolean Cube is taken influence from a logical mathematic function, Boolean, which explore a number of possibility that can be derived from one point. It doesn’t leave a room for any irrational or illogical possibility such as an unknown factor or any spiritual factor. It is another of my experimentation in mathematics, as a transitional process from my previous artworks on humanism and finding the logic in my artworks.

Dividing Aesthetic & Dividing Rigidity Series are a result of a simple way of breaking the sterile rigidity of symmetry into more dynamic, less predictable beauty associated with asymmetry. Pure symmetry is somehow too harsh, too rigid and unlife-like, was suggested by Immanuel Kant, who commented on how,
“All stiff regularity (such as borders on mathematical regularity) is inherently repugnant to taste, in that the contemplation on of it affords us no lasting entertainment … and we get heartily tired of it”

Symmetrical composition in my own opinion is too inhumane, too organized and too perfect to be true. It gives a focused transcendental space, affecting your perception into one direction, that is why many religion uses symmetry in their art. However a balanced asymmetrical composition can provide us the same transcendental space, but it is more dynamic and doesn’t act as an authoritarian. Because it has a difference and variation in its composition, it respects individuality and for that reason it’s a humanist composition  

The effect of establishing laws doesn’t always end up for conservation, it often creates a new way of thinking, a new way to trick the law and a new outcome. Restricting aesthetic is not a method to limit the freedom of the artist, but it inherits the artist a possibility to outsmart the system. Beauty can arise from law.

Irfan Hendrian


Klee, Paul. Pedagogical Sketchbook. New York: Frederick A. Praeger, Inc., 1960. Print.

Elam, Kimberly. Grid Systems: Principles of Organizing Type. Princeton Architectural Press, 2004. Print.

Ball, Philip, and Mario Ruben. Color Theory in Science and Art: Ostwald and the Bauhaus. 2004. Print.

Luong, Jessica. De Stijl. 2004. eBook.

L. C. Jaffe, Hans. De Stijl. 1st. H. N. Abrams, 1971. Print.

Hardiman, Introduction Essay Of Texture | Structure, a solo exhibition by Anggar Prasetyo. 2011. Print.

I. C., McManus. “Symmetry and asymmetry in aesthetics and the arts.” European Review. 13.2 (2005): Print.

Tschichold , Jan. The New Typography. 1st English Translation. London: University of California Press, 1995. Print.

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