I've been trying to get through this book so that I could put up a single post about it but it's 370 pages of detailed information that I think will warrant at least five posts! As I'm almost half way through, I thought I'd mention a few points that Padovan, the writer, has made thus far. Padovan, incidentally, was/is a lecturer at Bath University only a few miles from Bath Arts Uni campus that I attended (so I'm a bit annoyed I didn't find this book then).
The book is, as I say, packed full of really insightful points made by the author and those architects/mathematicians etc he quotes. The following will resemble a bullet point list, unfortunately, until I get my head around it a little more. I can see a mass network of interlinking bits of information coming together from what I read about proportion; architecture; modern researchers like Hambidge, Wittkower and Ghyka; Renaissance architects and painters like Leon Battista Alberti, Vasari, Brunelleschi; the Florentine writers – Ficino, Mirandola, Poliziano; right through to Plato, Plotinus and so on; and then there are all of the lesser related, but significant, subjects like 15th century Poland, the Hungarian Empire, Renaissance Milan and the Academies, Alois Reigl and Nietzsche (whom I also found while writing my dissertation on the Vienna Secession). I began to learn about proportion as an aid to my design work, but I've found more and more than it is intrinsically linked to my other interest – Renaissance Florence/Italy.
Early on in the book Padovan brings up the question of whether proportional systems are to be applied first, as a sort of code of conduct, or last, as a corrective device to improve what has been done up to then. Either way, there are questions to be asked about the process. For instance, can proportional awareness create a monotonous feeling in works? Can it void all sense of talent if used well? What do we mean by talent? Is talent necessary/important? Gustav Fechner proved that the majority of people he chose preferred, out of a large group of rectangles (and a square – being a 1:1 rectangle), the one whose sides followed the Golden Proportions 1:618. Others chose either a rectangle very similar to the Golden Rectangle or the square. What, then, does talent mean with regard to proportion?
Padovan goes on to consider Le Corbusier's/Alberti's idea of the relevance of proportion (in architecture) where the eye cannot see it (in graphic design, this may be a proportional system working very obscurely, in some way). Considering we cannot see, and do not yet understand, all of the universe, we are to assume it is all based on some binding mathematical principal. So their argument is to continue what we assume occurs in the universe by applying an overall principal of proportion to whatever we put into the universe. What is the point of proportion where we can't readily see it? The book says 'the eye of God' but I have a problem with that, if it means the common religious God. Were it to mean the eye of Ficino's idea of the soul, I could agree. In simpler terms, we (I hope) wouldn't feel comfortable tidying a house by taking everything that was out of place and throwing it into a cupboard somewhere. That messy cupboard might rest on our thoughts and give us a guilty feeling. Someone might open it and your reputation as a good housekeeper may collapse! I think this is what is meant in the book by 'the eye of God'. At least, that's how I'd argue for the need to tie every part of a design into its proportional context.