The Golden Section in Dali’s Work and in Literature.

Just before moving out of Barcelona, I’ve spent a weekend at Figueres for the sole purpose to spend some time at the Dali-Theatre Museum. Salvador Dalí was one of the most subversive and revolutionary artists of his time. Maybe it will come as a surprise to some of you that his surrealist works were based upon very sound scientifically research.

I have always argued that mathematics can be, in addition to a good technical support for artists, also an exceptional creative stimulus. The common opinion tends to be rather hostile to such an assertion. Analyzing Salvador Dali’s work, on the contrary, is a great way to support such a racy thesis. Starting from a statement, contained in his book 50 Secrets of Magic Craftsmanship, according to which

“You must, especially as a young man, use geometry as a guide to symmetry in the composition of your works. I know that more or less romantic painters argue that these mathematical scaffolds kill the artist’s inspiration, giving him too much to think and reflect. Do not hesitate for a moment to respond promptly that, on the contrary, it is just not to have to think and reflect on certain things that you use them”.

His “recipe” for beauty was to put close geometric constraints at the base of a picture, and then to let his creativity flow, sure that the result will be aesthetically harmonic and nice to see.

Atomic Leda study
Atomic Leda and its preparatory study.

Leda is one of the examples of paintings based on the concept of golden section, which underlies the construction of the pentagon: in a regular pentagon, in fact, the relationship between each diagonal and the side is the same as this number, $\Phi$, known in the centuries as gold number, golden ratio, golden section, golden mean (look here to learn more). All artists have been fascinated by this number, and Dalí is conformist in this respect: golden rectangles and related objects pervade his work even when it does not seem.

The Fibonacci sequence (and with it the Golden Ratio) can be seen throughout our universe. From our strands of DNA to the arms of a spiral galaxy, these numbers seem to pop up everywhere. One place that many people don’t consider when thinking of the Fibonacci sequence is literature. However, it can be found in writing throughout many time periods and cultures.

In Sanskrit poetry, there are two types of syllables: light (laghu) and heavy (guru). The laghu syllables take up one beat and guru syllables take up two. These syllables can be arranged in different patterns in a line of poetry. After a while, some of the more philosophical poets began to wonder how many arrangements of laghu and guru syllables they could make if they were given a set number of beats. The answer they came up with might look familiar: if a line has n beats, then the number of 1 beat laghu arrangements it can have is n-1 (since n-1+1=n), and it can have n-2 guru patterns (since n-2+2=n). To put it in a general formula, if Pn is the number of arrangements given n number of beats, then Pn=Pn-1+Pn-2. In other words, these poets had figured out the formula for the Fibonnaci sequence before he was even born!

Shakespeare’s most common meter was iambic pentameter, which uses a lot of Fibonacci numbers. This meter is a pattern of one unstressed syllable followed by one stressed syllable. This pattern of two syllables is repeated five times per line.

The most common setup for an essay is a five paragraph essay. (Already the presence of the Fibonacci sequence is present- 5 is a Fibonacci number.) This five-paragraph essay is broken up into smaller parts: ONE intro paragraph, THREE body paragraphs and ONE conclusion paragraph. This leads to there being TWO paragraphs summarizing the given topic and THREE paragraphs actual exploring it. Additionally, an ideal amount of sentences in the middle paragraphs is EIGHT, with THREE being the least amount a paragraph can have (normally the conclusion paragraph).

In a next post I would like to expand how also my own literary activity is heavily influenced by the Fibonacci sequences, albeit also here I’ve followed the lead of Dali, who went beyond the golden section and who’s interest extended to more complex mathematically concepts. As Dali wrote in his Manifesto antimaterico, “during the surrealist period I wanted to create the iconography of the inner world and the wonderful world conceived by my father Freud. Today, however, the outer world and the physical world have surpassed that of psychology. Today my father is Dr. Heisenberg.”

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