How Does Maths Affect Beautiful Things?

I would use many words to describe maths, however beautiful would not have been one of them, until very recently. Once I allowed myself to understand how maths can make one thing more pleasing to the eye, I was opened up to a world of beautifully mathematic possibilities.

‘The Rule of Thirds’ (ROT) is the first concept that blew my mind. What it is, is the idea that when we divide a photo, art or scene into 9 equal parts, horizontally and vertically, then we place the thing of interest (weather this is a person or a animal or even just the part of the photo/art that is the focus) at one of these cross points the photo then we create a more pleasing and balanced photograph than if we were to frame it otherwise such as centrally. (Roswie,2006) The theory first talked about by John Thomas Smith says about how naturally, our eyes are drawn towards these intersection points, so framing an image in that way is working with our natural direction rather than working against it. When Googling ‘beautiful pictures’ I found that again this was followed and I was so unware.

I wanted to explore if in fact this well known and older ‘rule’ of photography was being applied, and if so having an impact on interaction on a popular social media site ‘Instagram’. I had found a popular photographer called Chris Burkard, he captures amazing pictures in nature.


On pictures where he seems to have followed the ROT more obviously than others, his likes were increased. However, I am aware that this may not be down to the ROT alone, because of factors such as timing of the post or peoples interests being drawn to what he is photographing. It is interesting to see that the ROT may still be impacting us unconsciously on platforms of social media.

A twist to this concept has taken a hold where businesses are trying to reach the same goal by looking more appealing to customers by being/looking more interesting. Breaking down their social media platforms into threes (J. Grace, 2013). The businesses aim to divide the content  up to allow them to deliver both necessary information but also with things that will draw in their customers such as advertisements. 

However, despite the emphasis and importance highlighted on this golden rule, there has been research done in evaluating the real impact of this rule. Amirshahi et al. (2014) undertook research into how the ROT impacted peoples rating on art. They used a computer-based approach to get their findings. Amirshahi et al. found that despite the importance in the composition of art the ROT played only a slight impact on the scoring of both aesthetically pleasing aspects of the art but also overall ratings.

Another beauty concept that maths intervein with is our faces. There is an idea that a more symmetrical face results in a typically more physically ‘beautiful’ face. It has been proposed by the Evolutionary Advantage Theory that a more symmetrical face represents good health in a person (Bader, 2014). Elder (2001) an orthodontist supported this idea stating that symmetry in a face represents ‘freedom from disease’. Since many diseases may leave scars or marks on someones body or face. This could be the case, however, when we consider how much maths is unconsciously effecting our day to day decisions and perceptions of things I believe that there is maths possibly ‘wired’ lets say within us that means our brains think and see like like this. The theory of Perceptual Bias agrees with this idea. This theory states that our brains do work in a way that allow us to process symmetrical images easier than asymmetrical ones (Bader, 2014).

When looking at computer modified images, I personally found that the original images were in fact more ‘beautiful’ and there was something odd looking about the trialed faces. This may just be due to the inaccuracy or the fact that I have seen these faces before however take a look for yourself;

Despite my opinion however there has been many facial surgeons and mathematicians that have looked into this concept. Dr. Stephen Marquardt (undated) found throughout his studies that ranged from older members of society right to modern day agree with this theory. The faces that do follow typically more symmetrical frames are rated better in attractiveness. Marquardt has linked his research to the rule of Pi (or the golden ratio). He has created beauty masks which he shows examples of how this rule is applied to faces of beauty across ethnic variations, historical figures but also modern well known faces.

Before we have seen the rule of Pi applied to beautiful things within nature, drawings and now faces.

These ideas are two examples of how maths in fact can and is affecting beautiful things within out world. The idea of maths relating to reconstructing and allowing us to rethink what we see as beautiful fascinates me. The rule of thirds has already impacted how I look at posting even my own pictures ‘does the see divide the picture into a third?’ ‘should I capture my friend at a different angle to see if it does impact the interaction with my social media?’ Finally I am starting to see that I am not just using maths to count my coffee money or figure out the bus times!



Amirshahi,S et al. (2014) Evaluating the Rule of Thirds in Photographs and Paintings. Available at:

Grace, J. (2013) The Rule of Thirds for your social media strategy. Available at: (Accessed on 29.10.18)

Edler, R. J. (2001). “Background Considerations to Facial Aesthetics”. Journal of Orthodontics 28 (2): 159 Zaidel, D.

Bader, L. (2014) ‘Facial Symmetry and Attractivness’ The evoluation of human sexuality. Available at: (Accessed on 1.11.18)

No name (2012) ‘Is beauty really in the proportions?’ Everyday Evolution. Available at: (Accessed on 5.11.19)

1 thought on “How Does Maths Affect Beautiful Things?

  1. Jonathan Brown

    Lucy this is a really interesting post. You have thought about beauty in math from a range of angles. I particularly enjoyed the link the photographs on Instagram that followed the ROT and the number of likes they received.


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