Friday, 11 February 2011

Pattern: A Universal Truth (Part 1)

I recently unearthed an essay I wrote in the year 2000 on the subject of pattern, and rather than let it languish in a scruffy filing cabinet forever, I thought I’d publish it here.

Structure and pattern have always been the driving forces behind my jewellery. When I wrote this I was particularly obsessed with ideas surrounding symmetry, repetition, and complexity. I might tweak a few things as I read my own writing from eleven years ago, maybe add some new photos, but the basic principles will remain the same. Here it goes...

Truchet's Tiles. Image in public domain.

Pattern is not to be confused with decoration. It is not something merely applied to a fireplace or an alcove to make it period-perfect; it is not just surface treatment, eye candy, afterthought. Quite the opposite: Pattern is infused into every aspect of life, from the most basic to the most sophisticated physical and cultural levels. It is as much a part of our lives as our breath.

Whether a particular pattern is artist-made or naturally occurring is of little importance (‘artist’ being inclusive of anyone who creates pattern). Pattern in nature is the result of the laws of physics; pattern in the studio is more likely the result of many hours of labour, although physics can never be avoided. Collaborations do take place; an artist will sometimes coerce nature into unleashing its patterns in a controlled manner. In all cases, however, the rules governing pattern behaviour are constant.

Paramount to this essay is the fact that all patterns are essentially mathematics. No matter the outward appearance, organic or geometric, regular or random, pattern can always be analysed in mathematical terms. Far from the dryness of school arithmetic, modern mathematics has been described as “the science of patterns.”(1) Mathematics does not necessarily explain style or even content; what it does very well is help us to understand the essence of pattern(2), the fundamental rules that govern it, the universal laws that cut straight through the art/science divide.

In the first chapter of this essay I introduce pattern in its broadest sense, as a global phenomenon with certain inherent characteristics. In subsequent chapters I highlight what I consider to be pattern’s most remarkable qualities: Beauty; ‘simpliconomy’; and finally, universality, which makes it extremely useful as an aid to understanding through metaphor. This discussion should provide an insight into the universal significance, and indeed, truth, of pattern.

  1. Stewart, I. Nature’s Numbers, Orion, London 1995 p. 18
  2. Ball, P. The Self-Made Tapestry: Pattern Formation in Nature, Oxford University Press, Oxford 1999 p. 11

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