September 2019


Eye on art

by Vincent deLuise, MD

Source: Wikimedia Commons


In the first contribution to this series on art and perception, I’ve chosen the theme of symmetry. Symmetry surrounds us. It is a basic aspect of nature and is also a fundamental principle of beauty as explored and articulated by cognitive neuroscientists.1
Parts of the eye itself have symmetry: The cornea and iris display radial symmetry (symmetry around an axis). Humans and most vertebrates display bilateral symmetry, whereas a number of invertebrates display radial symmetry. 
I have selected a biological illustration to demonstrate this aspect of beauty, linking science and art through sight and perception. The image shown is the illustration “Actiniae” by the German biologist, naturalist, physician, and artist Ernst Haeckel (1834–1919) in his monumental 1904 treatise Kunstformen der Natur (Art Forms of Nature).
It depicts radial symmetry within many species of sea anemone (class Anthozoa, order Actiniaria). Haeckel named thousands of species of animals and plants, supported the evolutionary views of Charles Darwin, coined the terms ecology, phylum, and Protista, and was the author of the recapitulation theory that “the ontogeny recapitulates the phylogeny.”
Throughout Haeckel’s book, his keen visual perception and brilliant observations of nature are captured in spectacular lithographs.


1. Ramachandran VS, Hirstein W. The science of art: a neurological theory of aesthetic experience. J Consciousness Studies. 1999;6:15–51.

In this new column “Eye on Art,” Vincent deLuise, MD, explores the intersection of
medicine and art.

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