The beauty of the mother's smile:

a universal and unconscious source for generative form in visual expression and design

Prof. Peter D. Stebbing

Fachhochschule für Gestaltung Schwäbisch Gmünd,

Rektor Klaus Straße 100, D-73525 Schwäbisch Gmünd, Germany.



12 November 1999





There are two motifs which have universally occurred for thousands of years in the visual expression of many cultures. They are the circle and the asymmetrical curve. Since these forms appear so consistently in mankind's visual expression then they may have a biological origin and significance. It is proposed that the special appeal which both of these motifs have for us, originates during the early biological relationship which exists between a child and its mother whose eyes and cheek curves are the source for these forms. If this is the case then it would explain both the frequency of their use and/or the special significance which these archetypal forms are given in different cultures.

            It appears that the "eyespot" and "cheek curve" either individually or in various combinations have proved to be powerful generative design archetypes for both ornamental and form design in many cultures. Curved lines and surfaces are an integral part of form; however, very few design courses include a study of curves. This paper draws attention to the biological significance of the curve and recommends that art and design students should be introduced to the study of curves for which mathematicians have identified 62 families.




The occurrence of certain archetypal forms can be found in the visual expression of many contemporary cultures and also traced far back into mankind's prehistoric past. It appears that at least some of these archetypal forms elicit their emotional appeal because they are derived from our own body and play an integral role in our biology. Consequently, because we have evolved to respond to these forms we want to use them in our visual expression and cultural artefacts because of their emotional significance. These "bio-archetypal forms," as we might call them, are strong generators of design because our perception particularly favours these forms. Mankind has therefore exploited these forms for thousands of years in the creation of a multitude of designs in a range of media for a variety of situations.

            It is well known that the "eye spot" pattern (Fig. 1) has a special appeal for our species and that it is universally found in the visual expression of many cultures in both representative and more stylised or abstracted forms (Boaz, 1955; Eibl-Eibesfeldt, 1988). However, the source for the appeal of the asymmetrical curve has not been established, probably partly because of the difficulty of confirming a direct link between the biological origin of the appeal of the asymmetric curve and their use as aesthetic "archetypes." In this paper I provide evidence for the close relationship which appears to exist between the aesthetic appeal for the asymmetrical curve and its proposed biological precursor the "cheek curve."

            The question arises, why we do not use only these "bio-archetypal forms" in view of their biological attraction? Gregory Bateson (1980) provided an answer when he wrote- "Desired substances, things, patterns, or sequences of experience that are in some sense 'good' for the organism - items of diet, conditions of life, temperature, entertainment, sex, and so forth - are never such that more of something is always better than less of something. Rather, for all objects and experiences, there is a quantity that has optimum value. Above that quantity, the variable becomes toxic. To fall below that value is to be deprived." This is an important observation because it maybe that our urge to experience these familiar forms on the one hand and our satiation of them on the other is a psychological "motor" for our creativity to produce more designs in which these "bio-archetypes" continue to appear in new guises. We see evidence of this creativity in the swings of fashion in which cycles of desire and satiation reveal and hide the erotic zones of the female form.



The line of beauty

Erasmus Darwin (1794) first proposed in his work "Zoonomia" (Fischer, 1997) that the attraction of the asymmetrical curve (also referred to by the artist William Hogarth (1753) as the "line of beauty" (Fig. 2)) results from the baby's early experience of breastfeeding so that in later years when it sees a similar form to the female bosom it experiences an aesthetic pleasure. Erasmus Darwin's suggestion is logical enough because it makes sense for a baby to learn to be attracted to a form which is not only essential for its immediate survival but also will contribute to the appeal it experiences towards a potential partner in later years. (Feminists may wish to point out that this maybe the case for baby boys but what about baby girls? However, it appears that while women also find this form not unattractive, on the whole, appearance is not as critical in mate selection for the female of our species as it is for the male.) Unfortunately, Erasmus Darwin's suggestion is not consistent with the biology which we now know about the baby's development and its relationship with the mother. Firstly, the baby is born with eyes prefocused to approximately 30cm; this is about the distance of the baby's face from the mother's face when being held in her arms. Furthermore, during breastfeeding the baby spends a lot of time looking at its mother's face, this is the distance for which the baby's eyes are optimally adapted. It is therefore not possible for the baby to perceive the breast as a curve when it is feeding. In addition, bosoms are very variable in shape and certainly more varied than the cheek curve which has a form more consistent with the "line of beauty" as Hogarth called it.



The hypothesis

I propose the hypothesis that the aesthetic appeal which the asymmetric curve has for us originated from the biological "imprint"1 which we receive as babies from looking at our mother's "cheek curves" (Fig. 3). The visual effect of this curve is enhanced at the level of the mother's eye where the contour creates a "waist" with a contrasting angle which then ascends in a short straight line towards the temple. The entire visual phrase of the "cheek curve" therefore ideally consists of an asymmetrical curve together with a short straight line. The consequence of this "imprint" is that in our later adult life (and in males at least) the asymmetrical cheek curve has the role of a "biological releaser"2 to which males appear to be strongly attracted because this form not only occurs in the face but it is also repeated a number of times in the body of the female.



Facial perception, bonding and the mother's smile  

The face plays a crucial role in the bonding behaviour which occurs between a mother and her child who spend a lot of time looking into each other's smiling faces and facially interacting with one another. Indeed, during the first hour after birth the baby looks especially intently into the eyes of its mother. Eibl Eibesfeldt (1989) quotes Haith et al., (1977) "At three to five weeks, their visual responses as a percentage of total fixation time are directed to the contours of the human face (57.4% of fixation), with a preference for the eyes (29.8%) and less attention to nose (7.9%) and mouth (4.95). Between 9 and 11 weeks of age, the eyes attract more attention (48.9%) than the contours (32.7%...)."  So babies go through a sequence of phases (Fig. 4) in which their interest is biased more towards one character of the face than another as they progressively learn to perceive the entire human face (Ahrens 1954). This development is completed after about the first 5-6 months.

            Smiling is an essential part of human social behaviour. Furthermore, and as we all know, it alters the shape of the mouth and changes the contours of the face by enhancing the bulges of the cheek bones (Fig. 5) by exaggerating the asymmetrical curve of the cheek profiles. These curves are easy to see, even as the baby looks up into its mother's face, since its eyes are optimally focussed when the baby is lying in its mother's arms. In addition, it is proposed that the love and care associated with the mother's presence and her smiling cheek curves all contribute, through learning, to a happy association of form with feeling. It is this association which is the source of the asymmetric curve's aesthetic and emotional power.

            Now during the earliest stages of a child's development it goes through a so-called "sensitive period" (Gazzaniga, 1994) of development when particular stimuli have a disproportionately powerful influence on the future long term behaviour of the individual. Although, it is not strictly the correct word for the human context, I propose that the baby is "imprinted" with the asymmetrical form of the cheek curve which is "loaded" with a "happy emotional association" which is the basis of its aesthetic appeal. Scientists have proposed that in humans maternal influences have long term effects on sociosexual preferences, especially for men, although these influences have been difficult to confirm (Kendrick et al. 1998). The difficulty is partly due to the long time spans involved in subsequently assessing adult responses to the maternal influences which the adult experienced as a baby. However, if we take a holistic view of adult creative behaviour, we discover that the asymmetric curve has been a consistent component of human visual expression from the Acheulian stone axe to the Porsche motor car. It is only when we bring together the combination of factors of postnatal biology including- the baby's biased interest in the face's outline, the pre-focussed distance of 30cm of the baby's eyes, the significance of smiling, plus the "sensitive period" of babyhood that the hypothesis that the the mother's cheek is the source for this curve begins to appear to be a reasonable proposal.



Evidence why "the cheek curve" may be a biological "releaser"

What other evidence is there for the hypothesis? If our attraction for the "cheek curve" is of a biological nature and it is a "releaser," then it would be culturally exploited by exaggeration in similar ways to other "releasers" such as the female bosom (Eibl-Eibesfeldt 1989). Desmond Morris (1982) refers to the enhancement of our "biological releasers" with the help of the beauty salon to create "stimuli stronger than their natural equivalents." Indeed, it is not necessary to list the techniques which have been developed to both exaggerate and enhance the female bosom ranging from the brassière to surgery. We are also all familiar with how the "kindchenschema" or "child's head" releaser is both exaggerated and exploited by cartoonists and toy manufacturers (usually with the additional "releaser" of large childish eyes) in order to market their representations. "Releasers" can therefore be exaggerated either by increasing their relative size as in the examples just mentioned or by repeating the "releaser." One example which nicely demonstrates both of these methods is the peacock's tail, which in addition to being very large also displays a multitude of repeated eyespots.

            Now if the "cheek curve" is a biological "releaser" as proposed in the hypothesis then the question is- do we find it repeated or exaggerated in the human form? Secondly, is it also being exploited in both adult sociosexual and commercial contexts? The answer to these questions is yes.

1.         In the female face we find the "cheek curve" repeated most clearly in the shape of the upper lip (Fig. 6) with its distinctive dip or "waist" in the centre. (The lip appears to "mimic" the cheek curve in a similar way that Morris (1967) proposed that the female breasts mimic the buttocks.) However, the "cheek curve" is perhaps more well known from the  frontally viewed female figure outline where the curve is to be seen in the contour from the waist to the knee. In Leda with the Swan  Leonardo da Vinci depicted Leda in the well known contraposto position which clearly displays this curve contrasted with the straighter outline of the other side of the body. In order to increase the impact of the curve Leonardo has even outlined and enhanced it with the swan's wing which embraces the curve to the knee. Velazquez in his The toilet of Venus used a similar device to enhance the hip curve by painting a lighter area of bed linen between Venus and the mirror which has the effect of swelling the curve. The asymmetrical curve is again to be seen in the flatter form of the calf profile of the lower leg. A third curve has been achieved, at least in the Western culture, by the development of the high heel shoe. This provides a prosthesis (Fig. 7) which completes a final repetition of the asymmetrical curve in which the back of the foot initiates a curve which is completed by the shoe's high heel!

2.         Evidence that the cheek curve is a "biological releaser" comes from the fact that we use makeup as a means of enhancing its impact. The cheek curve and the resulting, or at least wished for, shadow which usually accompanies it, is increased by cosmetically shading the cheek to at least imply a more curvaceous outline than the owner may actually have.

3.            Furthermore, in the sociosexual context we have already mentioned the function of the high-heeled shoe (Fig. 7) in providing an additional curve for the aim of enhancing attraction. Another form of prosthetic help comes from the corset which enhances the "cheek curve" of the hips by constricting the body above the waist.

4          Is there any other evidence to suggest that the "cheek curve" might be a "biological releaser" whose origins stem from the mother's influence? It has been reported that both humans and chimpanzees tend to hold their babies on the left side. Generally, it had been thought that this enabled the baby to sense the mother's heartbeat thereby providing it with maternal reassurance. However, Manning, Heaton and Chamberlain (1994) propose an additional explanation to the generally known one. Furthermore, since 90% of human beings are right handed then holding the baby in the left arm leaves the right hand free to perform necessary tasks. Manning et al . suggest that when the mother is holding the baby on her left side then the sensory information that she receives from that side of her body (sight, sound and touch) goes to the right side of the mother's brain. The right half of the brain is the holistic and intuitive side and may mean that the mother is able to sense if something is wrong with her baby, even subliminally, more quickly than if she were holding the baby on the right side where the messages would then go to the left and logical side of the brain. The left side of the brain is good at dealing with detail and so it might either miss or delay the detection of a problem as the mother tries to understand what is wrong with the baby. Whilst this might be a rather subtle advantage, nonetheless, it enables the mother to take appropriate action that much sooner than if she were holding her baby on her right side. Although this is a small advantage, nonetheless, this is precisely the kind of minor benefit of which evolutionary progress is made. So this is the theory; is there any corroborating evidence?

            I have a collection of Vogues and several years ago, as a part of this study, I was looking for pictures of women's faces photographed from the model's right side which consequently showed her left cheek profile. It seemed that profiles were easier to find which showed the model's right cheek profile. I carried out a survey of the front covers of my collection of 124 English Vogues which run from the late sixties to the early eighties. I found that on the majority (84) of the front covers the models' faces had been photographed symmetrically from the front, however, on 11 of the front covers the models had been photographed from the models' right-hand-side so that their left three-quarter-profile could be seen. Meanwhile 29 of the covers viewed the model from the other side and showed the models' right cheek profile. Was this significant?


                                                                right cheek               centred                          left cheek

                                                curve on LHS      face                                 curve on RHS

                                                of picture                                                              of picture


Sample of 124                         

UK Vogues from the                       29                                    84                                         11

60s to early 80s


German Vogue sample

for the 10 Years from                     23                                    95                                          2

1979-1989 of 120


A further opportunity to repeat this test presented itself when the German Vogue issued an anniversary edition in September 1989 in which they published all 120 covers for the last decade on a double page spread. This second test produced even clearer results than those obtained from the UK Vogues. Now how are we to interpret these results?

            If, as has been suggested, maternal influences in humans have long term effects on sociosexual preferences, especially for men, and if Manning et al's (1994) second explanation is correct (i.e. holding the baby on the left side of the body results in the parent perceiving her child with the right side of her brain i.e. holistically and intuitively so that it is better cared for) then we can argue as follows-

1          All adults including the photographers and editorial staff involved in the production of the cover designs have been more frequently nursed on the left side of their mothers' bodies than on the right.

2            Consequently, due to the longer exposure they received as babies to the view of their mother's right cheek profile during the sensitive period, they came to prefer the right cheek curve when viewing the face asymmetrically. (Furthermore, being nursed on the left may have become subconsciously associated with better care than when they were nursed on the right side of their mother's bodies).

3            Therefore, the general tendancy for mothers to hold infants on the left side of the body would account for the photographers and editorial department selecting photographs for the Vogue covers in which the models right cheek curve is favoured and published as opposed to the left cheek curve.

In conclusion it maybe that what is occurring here is a verifiable sociosexual preference in adult behaviour which resulted from the earlier maternal care of the adult when it was a baby.

            Finally, in complete contrast to the cheek curve and as an experimental control we might consider another part of the human anatomy which receives no such comparable attention as the "cheek curve". The elbow or lower arm for example is in no way treated with the same significance and they neither receive any make-up or prostheses (except perhaps in special cases when the limb has been lost and even then not everybody who has lost an arm wears a prosthesis) and so they are in no way comparable with "releasers" such as the female breast. Furthermore, we might also mention that the elbow and lower arm have not obviously been used as form models for either ornamental or general design.



The "cheek curve" in aesthetic expression

The "cheek curve" form (which usually includes not only the cheek curve itself but also the short straight line already described) can be found in mankind's visual expression in many cultures throughout many periods. It has already been mentioned that the "cheek curve" (without the straight line just referred to) first appeared in the teardrop shaped Acheulian axes (Fig. 8) which were produced by our ancestor species Homo erectus / ergaster  from 1.4 million years ago up until 200,000 years ago when modern man appeared on the scene (Lewin 1998). In addition we find the cheek curve in the engravings of figures from Gönnersdorf in Germany (Fig.9) from the Magdalenian period (circa 10,000 yrs before present) as well as from the Dordogne. However, we find the "cheek curve" form most frequently in the pottery of nearly all cultures ranging from the Jomon (circa 4-5,000 yrs before present) of Prehistoric Japan (Imamura 1996), through to Mycenaean and Greek pottery and right on up to the present day. It is not possible here to visually even summarize the range of objects in which this curve is to be found. It is, however, my general impression that the "cheek curve" form is to be more frequently seen in the earlier human lithic, ceramic and figurative artefacts than in contemporary artefacts but this may be an observational bias. In Figure 10 I have included several examples which display the diversity of media and objects in which the cheek curve can be easily identified including: (clockwise from top left) an Anatolian marble female figure from the Early Bronze Age i.e. about 6-5,000 years before present; a Greek amphora; a bronze dagger from prehistoric Italy; a war shield from the Celebes; and finally an early 18th century North Italian provincial side table.



The "eyespot"; from biological releaser to aesthetic component

In addition to the "cheekcurve" we must also consider another "releaser," the eyespot, because these two "bioarchetypal" forms are not only integrally associated in our behaviour (and both have their origins in the face) but because they are frequently combined as design generators.

            It has already been mentioned that the eyespot (Eibl-Eibesfeldt, 1988) is of great behavioural significance for us and that immediately after birth the newborn baby spends an hour or so looking intently into its mother's eyes and face. It is noteworthy that during pregnancy the nipples themselves become darker and more strongly pigmented so that they also function as visual guides for the baby. In other words the nipples become "proto-eyespots." This coevolutionary response of the mother supports the proposal that the baby is already born with an innate ability to respond to eyespots and not just to contrast alone. Cott (1966) produced an illustration (Fig. 11) showing cryptic patterns together with a complete eyespot which demonstrates our automatic visual attraction to the eye and its role as a "biological releaser." Eyespots indicate other animals and therefore the recognition of eyespots is very important for our survival in order to both acquire food and avoid predators. Consequently, many animals have evolved means of hiding their eyes with cryptic markings (Cott 1966) or have evolved eyespots on other parts of their anatomy, either to draw attention away from their heads or simply to frighten away would be predators with bigger eyespots (Fig. 12). Meanwhile, in our own social behaviour the eyes play an essential role for signalling and communication and, as all we know, making "eye contact" is an automatic process. A number of cultures from all around the world have used paint or makeup to enhance the appearance of the eyes. As with the other examples of "releasers" already mentioned the aim of enhancing the appearance is achieved by either apparently increasing the size of the eye or repeating the contrasting rings around the eye form.

            In the early -50s, Niko Tinbergen (1965), a student of Konrad Lorenz, conducted what has become a classic study of animal behaviour on the herring gull. The adult herring gull has a red spot on its lower beak which the chick pecks in order to stimulate the parent to regurgitate food. The red spot is another example of a "releaser" or "innate releasing mechanism." In one series of experiments Tinbergen investigated the chick's response to this red spot by presenting models of the adult head which had been changed in one way or another. In one experiment the red spot was enhanced by adding a white concentric circle within the red spot (Fig. 13). The result was a 'supernormal' response of 116 pecks made at the 'super-stimuli' spot whilst the normal red spot received 100 pecks. The extra ring which repeated the contrasting border of the spot had the effect of releasing a greater response in the chick. It would appear that our perceptual system also responds in a similar way to such 'super' stimuli because we enhance the artistic representations of eyes in precisely the same ways by either repeating concentric circles and/or increasing the eyes size.

            We find examples of both concentric eyespots and/or enlarged eyes in the artistic expression of many cultures including: the Australian Aborigines (Fig. 14), the Kwakiutl tribe (Fig. 14) of the Pacific Coast of North America (Boaz 1955), the Mayas (Stierlin 1981), the Maoris, the Baining from New Britanny, the Sepik from Papua New-Guinea, the Ibibio and other tribes from Africa (Kussmaul 1982). 



Does the  perceptual attraction of the spiral derive from its similarity to the "eyespot"?

The work of Tinbergen (1965) on herring gulls enables us to suggest that the visual attraction which the appearance of closely wound spirals have for us results from their similarity to eyespots. (Fig. 15) Our eyes have evolved to go to the centre of an "eyespot" in order to determine the direction of its gaze regardless of whether the "eyespot" is made of concentric circles or a closely wound spiral. As our eyes traverse the outer rings towards the "eyespot's" centre we do not need to know whether the encircling lines are concentric or spiralling- we are concerned merely to check out the "eyespot." Furthermore, we do not follow the spiral but merely look to the centre of the "eyespot." These observations therefore suggest that spirals are visually interesting for us because of their similarity to "eyespots."

            Once again the evidence for the appeal of spiral "eyespots" is well supported by its occurrence in the artforms of many cultures. Prehistoric examples of spirals are well known from New Grange in Ireland, whilst on the Mycenaean pottery it is the dominant motif (Ben-Tor, 1992). Meanwhile, Gillon (1984) writes on the occurrence of the spiral in African art- "One of the unifying motifs for the rock art of the Sahara is the spiral, a symbol possibly representing the snake, which became a widespread decorative pattern throughout Africa ... It appears in paintings and engravings in Hoggar, Tassili, Tibesti, Ennedi, Fezzan and throughout the Valley of the Nile. The earliest appearance of the spiral motif was in the central Sahara and has been dated about 6000B.C. In the Nile Valley it goes back to pre-dynastic times. As a symbol it is also known in other countries and is documented in the Cycladic, Cretan, Minoan and Mycenaean cultures of ancient Greece, from the third millenium onwards, i.e. much later than on the African Continent. It is assumed that these were parallel developments, although a diffusion from Africa to Greece cannot be excluded."

            Meanwhile the Maori and Celtic cultures are reknown for their use of the spiral as a basic component of their visual expression whilst the volute has been a favourite architectural device for much of western history since the Greeks. It is not possible here to provide a complete survey but rather to demonstrate the universality (Fig. 16) of the spiral as a visual archetype.



The "cheek curve" + "eyespot" = "heart form"

The reason for discussing the eyespot "releaser" is that this form has frequently been combined with the cheek curve "releaser" in human visual expression to generate what might be called a "super symbol" -namely the heart form (Fig. 17). It is proposed here that the heart form is special, not so much because it vaguely happens to resemble the heart, but because it has been created from a double or reflected "cheek curve" plus "eyespots." This bioarchetype or aesthetic primitive also occurs in the visual expression of many cultures around the world and from many periods.



Conclusions concerning the "cheek curve."

Finally, we may conclude that the "cheek curve" bioarchetype is an aesthetic primitive because-

1          the cheek curve can be enhanced, with the use of an artifical aid (make-up) just as other "biological releasers," such as the female bosom can also be artificially enhanced, in order to elicit a stronger response.

2          this asymmetrical curve has appeared consistently for thousands of years in the cultural products and visual expression of many cultures, independently of cultural transmission, and continues to appear in a wide range of human artefacts and cultural expression.

            Therefore we may conclude that this form originates from the "deeper level" of our biological behaviour common to our species and not limited to any specific cultures.



Generative design with the "cheek curve," the "eyespot" and the spiral.

The "bioarchetypal" forms of the "cheek curve," the "eyespot" and the spiral have been a "generative" source of design form and ornament for thousands of years. Mankind has played with these forms using the four fundamental pattern creating processes of repetition, rotation, reflection, and glide reflection togther with combination and variation to produce an almost endless variety of designs from the limited means of the mother's face. So it is that we see here, within the diversity of human visual expression and creativity, a kind of "bio-grammar" in which, to repeat von Humboldt's words, "limited means produces unlimited possibilities."  Reference to the past human visual culture should therefore not merely inspire us to create but to understand both how to create and why we create and most importantly, why does what we create move us?


Educational significance for art and design

The choice we have about the use of a straight line in a design ends with the decision about its length. The curve is clearly different. Mathematicians have described 62 families of curves. I would propose that art and design students are introduced to the biological significance of curves and make a study of a selection of curves, their beauty and construction from the 62 families. Several years ago I taught such an introductory course on curves (Stebbing 1992) which was framed within the biological context which they have for us. For any lecturers who might consider teaching such a course themselves then I can recommend the following titles as a starting point:


Boaz, F., 1955, Primitive Art, Dover Publications, New York

Cook, T.A., 1979, The curves of life, Dover Publications, New York

Gazalé, M.J., 1999, Gnomon-from Pharaohs to Fractals, Princeton University Press,             New Jersey

Kappraff, J., 1991, Connections- the geometric bridge between art and science, McGraw-             Hill Inc., New York

Lawrence, J.D., 1972, A catalog of special plane curves, Dover Publications, New York

Lockwood, E.H., 1961, A book of curves, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge

Meehan, A., 1993, Celtic Design, Spiral Patterns, Thames & Hudson, London

Pedoe, D., 1976, Geometry and the liberal arts, Penguin Books, Harmondsworth

Petrie, F., 1990, Decorative Patterns of the Ancient World, Studio Editions, London

Stevens, P.S., 1976, Patterns in Nature, Penguin Books, Harmondsworth

Stevens, P.S., 1981, Handbook of Regular Patterns, The MIT Press, Cambridge, MA

Wilson, E., 1994, 8000 years of Ornament, The British Museum Press, London




This study is a part of my research into a proposed typology for visual expression organised into layers of complexity consistent with our evolution and the development of culture. Colleagues who participated in last years Generative Design Conference will recall that I presented a paper (Stebbing 1998) based on the individual's necessity to recognise organic form. My hypothesis is that the ability which evolved and enabled us to identify any kind of organism preadapted us with a universal "biogrammar" for visual composition because both organic form recognition and visual composition depend on the same perceptual primitives of contrast, rhythm (pattern), balance (& symmetry) and proportion. I classify contrast, rhythm (pattern), balance (& symmetry) and proportion as "Level One- aesthetics of the Individual" because of the individual's necessity to recognise organic form and eat. The current paper for the -99 Conference is associated with the visual aesthetic biology of the two pair bonds: mother-child and woman-man (although there was little reference in this paper to the woman-man bond, nonetheless, the foundations for it are laid down in the mother-child relationship) which in my proposed typology I call "Level Two- aesthetics of the Pair Bond." The third level can be anticipated and is concerned with the group "Level Three- aesthetics of the Group." The reason for identifying specific biological levels of aesthetics provides us with a much better basis for subject and curricular organisation in art and design. Furthermore it orientates the field to a multi-disciplinary and holistic approach which it has not achieved as well as providing new areas for research. This is the direction where I believe we must go in education for a fuller understanding of human creative ability and simultaneously provide a better opportunity for the individual to achieve their own creative potential .




1.                "Imprinting" (Sluckin 1966) is a behaviour which was first described by Konrad Lorenz. The basic concept is that an animal is prepared for a behaviour in its adult life by receiving an "imprint" stimulus during a sensitive period in the earliest stages of development. Lorenz studied geese and found that shortly after hatching they were "imprinted" by the image of the attending mother. He conducted experiments, now well known, in which he presented himself to the goslings directly after they hatched with the result that they "imprinted" themselves on him instead of the mother. The power of the "imprint" was confirmed since as mature geese they consistently followed Lorenz and he was the object of their mating behaviour. It may be said that the geese mistook themselves for humans because as goslings they had received a human "imprint" rather than a goose "imprint". In human behaviour biologists do not use the term "imprint" nonetheless, Lorenz's term crudely conveys the concept without our going into detail about differentiating this behaviour in birds, mammals amd mankind. In any case, it is now well known that the human infant is extremely sensitive to maternal deprivation and that experiences during the first 3 years of life may have important and near permanent effects (Manning, 1968). Language is an excellent example of a behaviour which has to be learnt during a "sensitive period." which extends from 0 to about 12 years. A child's "sensitive period" for learning its mother tongue is optimal in the earliest years when it peaks around 2-3 years of age and then completely disappears after about the 12th year.


2              "Biological releaser" was also first described by Konrad Lorenz. "Releasers" are behavioural mechanisms for "releasing" appropriate behavioural reponses in other members of the species. Classic examples are the "Kindchenschema" or the baby's head form which is a releaser in humans and at least some other primates for parental care. A second example is the female bosom which is a releaser for attraction in the male (Eibl Eibesfeldt 1989)




Although space does not permit individual mention of those who have granted permission for the use of their illustrations in this paper; I would still like to thank them collectively. Unfortunately,  despite my efforts, I was unable to trace and contact all copyright holders prior to publication and so I invite anyone whose illustrations appear here whom I have not contacted to contact me directly.




Ahrens, R., 1954, Beiträge zur Entwicklung des Physiognomie-und Mimikennens. Z.             Exp. Angew. Psychol. 2, 412-454

Bateson, G., 1980, Mind and Nature, Fontana, Collins, London

Ben-Tor, A., 1992, The archaeology of Ancient Israel, Yale University Press, New haven &             London.

Boaz, F., 1955, Primitive Art, Dover Publications, New York

Cott, H. B., 1966, Adaptive coloration in animals, Methuen & Co Ltd., London

Eibl-Eibesfeldt, I., 1988, The biological foundations of aesthetics, in eds. Rentschler, I.,             Herzberger, B., Epstein, D., Beauty and the Brain, Birkhäuser Verlag, Basel

Eibl-Eibesfeldt, I., 1989, Human Ethology, Aldine de Gruyter, New York

Fischer, E.P., 1997, Das Schöne und das Biest, Piper Verlag, Munich

Gazzaniga, M.S., 1994, Nature's mind- the biological roots of thinking, emotions,             sexulaity, language and intelligence, Penguin Books, London

Gillon, W., 1984, A short history of African Art, Penguin Books, London

Hogarth, W., 1753, The analysis of beauty, A Scolar Press Facsimiles (1974), London

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