Jay Hambidge

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At the Tomb of Omar Khayyam, by Jay Hambidge

Jay Hambidge (1867–1924) was an American artist who formulated the theory of "dynamic symmetry", a system defining compositional rules, which was adopted by several notable American and Canadian artists in the early 20th century.

Early life and theory[edit]

He was a pupil at the Art Students' League in New York and of William Merritt Chase, and a thorough student of classical art. He conceived the idea that the study of arithmetic with the aid of geometrical designs was the foundation of the proportion and symmetry in Greek architecture, sculpture and ceramics.[1] Careful examination and measurements of classical buildings in Greece, among them the Parthenon, the temple of Apollo at Bassæ, of Zeus at Olympia and Athenæ at Ægina, prompted him to formulate the theory of "dynamic symmetry" as demonstrated in his works Dynamic Symmetry: The Greek Vase (1920)[2] and The Elements of Dynamic Symmetry (1926).[3] It created a great deal of discussion.[1] He found a disciple in Dr. Lacey D. Caskey, the author of Geometry of Greek Vases (1922).[4]

In 1921, articles critical of Hambidge's theories were published by Edwin M. Blake in Art Bulletin, and by Rhys Carpenter in American Journal of Archaeology. Art historian Michael Quick says Blake and Carpenter "used different methods to expose the basic fallacy of Hambidge's use of his system on Greek art—that in its more complicated constructions, the system could describe any shape at all."[5] In 1979 Lee Malone said Hambidge's theories were discredited, but that they had appealed to many American artists in the early 20th century because "he was teaching precisely the things that certain artists wanted to hear, especially those who had blazed so brief a trail in observing the American scene and now found themselves displaced by the force of contemporary European trends."[4]

He was married to the American weaver Mary Crovatt.[6]

Dynamic symmetry[edit]

Dynamic symmetry is a proportioning system and natural design methodology described in Hambidge's books. The system uses dynamic rectangles, including root rectangles based on ratios such as 2, 3, 5, the golden ratio (φ = 1.618...), its square root (φ = 1.272...), and its square (φ2 = 2.618....), and the silver ratio ().[7][8]

From the study of phyllotaxis and the related Fibonacci sequence (1, 1, 2, 3, 5, 8, 13, 21, 34, 55, 89, 144, ...), Hambidge says that "a much closer representation would be obtained by a substitute series such as 118, 191, 309, 500, 809, 1309, 2118, 3427, 5545, 8972, 14517, etc. One term of this series divided into the other equals 1.6180, which is the ratio needed to explain the plant design system."[9] This substitute sequence is a generalization of the Fibonacci sequence that chooses 118 and 191 as the beginning numbers to generate the rest. In fact, the standard Fibonacci sequence provides the best possible rational approximations to the golden ratio for numbers of a given size.[clarification needed]

A number of notable American and Canadian artists have used dynamic symmetry in their painting, including George Bellows (1882–1925),[10] Maxfield Parrish (1870–1966),[11] The New Yorker cartoonist Helen Hokinson (1893–1949), Al Nestler (1900–1971),[12][13] Kathleen Munn (1887–1974),[14] the children's book illustrator and author Robert McCloskey (1914–2003),[15] and Clay Wagstaff (b. 1964).[16] Elizabeth Whiteley has used dynamic symmetry for works on paper.[17]



Root Rectangles to Generate diagonals for Dynamic Symmetry

The application and psychology of Dynamic Symmetry in such a fast and modern medium such as photography, in particular Digital Photography, is challenging but not impossible. The Rule of Thirds has been the composition of choice for a majority of new and experienced photographers alike.[18] Although this method is effective, Dynamic Symmetry can be applied to compositions to create a level of in depth creativity and control over the image. According to Bob Holmes,[19] a photographer from National Geographic, a photographer must "be responsible for everything in the frame".[20] Using diagonals to align subjects and the reciprocal diagonals associated to the size of the frame, one would be able to create a highly intricate work of fine art. For example, world renowned portrait photographer Annie Liebovitz used this method to create an image,[21] among many others, for Vanity Fair Magazine. The image correctly posed each of the models to intersect the subject with a corresponding diagonal to draw the viewer to the main idea of the photograph.

This powerful process was used regularly by French painter turned film photographer: Henri Cartier-Bresson. Using Dynamic Symmetry, Henri was able to create engaging and interesting photographs that he deemed were made with the idea of "The Decisive Moment",[22] a photographic psychology that describes "when the visual and psychological elements of people in a real life scene to spontaneously and briefly come together in perfect resonance to express the essence of that situation".[23]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b Blake, Edwin M. (March 1921). "Dynamic Symmetry-A Criticism". The Art Bulletin. 3 (3): 107–127. doi:10.2307/3046381. JSTOR 3046381.
  2. ^ Dynamic Symmetry: The Greek Vase
  3. ^ The Elements of Dynamic Symmetry
  4. ^ a b Bellows, George (1979). George Wesley Bellows: Paintings, Drawings, and Prints. Columbus, Ohio: Columbus Museum of Art. p. 3. OCLC 228660551.
  5. ^ Bellows, George, and Michael Quick (1992). The Paintings of George Bellows. Fort Worth, Tex: Amon Carter Museum. p. 94 n. 55. ISBN 0883600684.
  6. ^ "Mary Hambidge, Weaver, Dies; Led Mountain Crafts Foundation". The New York Times. 16 September 1973. Retrieved 17 January 2024.
  7. ^ Hambidge, Jay (2003) [1920]. Dynamic Symmetry: The Greek Vase (Reprint of original Yale University Press ed.). Whitefish, MT: Kessinger Publishing. pp. 19–29. ISBN 0-7661-7679-7.
  8. ^ Matila Ghyka (1977). The Geometry of Art and Life. Courier Dover Publications. pp. 126–127. ISBN 9780486235424.
  9. ^ Hambidge (1920) p. 159; note that his cited ratio 1.6180 is exact only for the pair 500, 809.
  10. ^ Bellows, George (1979). George Wesley Bellows: Paintings, Drawings, and Prints. Columbus, Ohio: Columbus Museum of Art. pp. 3–4. OCLC 228660551.
  11. ^ Ludwig, Coy L., Diane Casella Hines, Robert Fillie, James Craig (1973). Maxfield Parrish. New York, NY: Watson-Guptill Publications. p. 142. ISBN 0823038971.
  12. ^ Nestler, Al (1966). Moods in Oils and Felt Pens. [Tustin, Calif.]: [Foster art Service]. ASIN B000BJTB32
  13. ^ Nestler, Al (1970). Color and Composition. Tustin, CA.: Walter T. Foster. ASIN B000BJOB8W
  14. ^ eBook by Georgiana Uhlyarik, Canada Art Institute
  15. ^ McCloskey, Jane (2016). McCloskey: Art and Illustrations of Robert McCloskey, Downeast Books.
  16. ^ New American Paintings No. 48, p. 153. The Open Studios Press, Boston, 2003.
  17. ^ Whiteley, E. "A Process for Generating 2D paintings and Drawings from Geometric Diagrams." Journal of Mathematics and the Arts. v.2 no.1 March 2008. 20-38 pp.
  18. ^ "Rule of Thirds in Photography [4 Tips for Mastery]". PHLEARN. Retrieved 2020-03-07.
  19. ^ "Robert Holmes". www.robertholmesphotography.com. Retrieved 2020-03-07.
  20. ^ Silber, Marc (2019-11-04). "4 Tips from a National Geographic Photographer". Medium. Retrieved 2020-03-07.
  21. ^ "VANITY FAIR | Vanity Fair | April 2001". Vanity Fair | The Complete Archive. Retrieved 2020-03-07.
  22. ^ Henri Cartier-Bresson The Decisive Moment ARTBOOK | D.A.P. 2015 Catalog Steidl Books Exhibition Catalogues 9783869307886.
  23. ^ "Photographic Psychology: The Decisive Moment". truecenterpublishing.com. Retrieved 2020-03-08.

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