In Pursuit of Elegance

 In his book “In Pursuit of Elegance: Why the best ideas have something missing” Matthew E. May argues that the most elegant and attractive things in life all have a common characteristic — they have something missing.
May starts his book with a quote, “Less is the new more” by famous author Guy Kawasaki. He also quotes a very interesting poem from Chinese philosopher Lao Tzu: “Shape clay into a vessel, it is the space within that makes it useful. / Cut doors and windows for a room, it is the holes which make it useful. / Therefore profit comes from what is there, usefulness from what is not there.” May provides a variety of visual shapes with missing parts in the pages of his book. For example, in one picture, there are six circles with missing angular slices, and a triangle which does not exist in reality, but look like it exists. So anything which does not exist, paradoxically might exist.
Many of us often make to-do lists but famous author Jim Collins has a “stop-doing” list. According to him for a happy life, we have to find out the things we have to stop doing. In one of his essays which appeared in USA Today he underlined this idea: “A great piece of art is composed not just of what is in the final piece, but equally what is not. It is the discipline to discard what does not fit.”
Puzzles are so attractive in general because they have a missing parts. Sudoku, one of the champions of puzzles, is a perfect example of missing parts. There are many things that are incomplete like the Colosseum in Rome or imperfect like the works of Picasso, and yet are still so elegant and attractive. Famous Turkish standup comedian Cem Yılmaz uses his name without vowels: CM YLMZ. Yet we still understand it and we love the elegance. According to May subtraction helps us solve the problem of economy. Doing less and conserving doesn’t come naturally. Humans are natural-born adders, hard-wired to push, collect, hoard, store and consume.
Sometimes the removal of some rules might improve performance. There is a concept known as the Montana Paradox. In December 1995 the US state of Montana reverted to its pre-1975 highway speed standard of “reasonable and prudent” akin to the German Autobahn, which meant that speed limits were not based on numerical maximums but on flow management by what motorists considered safe for prevailing conditions. Over the next five years, with no form of speed limit on its rural primary highways, Montana recorded its lowest fatality rates in 25 years. Similarly, a village in Holland removed all traffic signs from the roads to improve its traffic flow. In Turkey, my personal observation has been that some drivers think the existence traffic police causes traffic jams.
May explains the secret of famous painting of Leonardo da Vinci, the Mona Lisa, which Da Vinci used a technique called “sfumato.” This technique never includes distinct edges and lines. It is also known as the smoke technique because every line somehow stays in a kind of fog. That’s why we believe the eyes of Mona Lisa look seem at us wherever we stand. Famous sculptor Donatello developed a technique he called “non finito.” Similarly, he understood that art is completed in the imagination of its audience.
We love novels and most of the time are not satisfied with movies adaptations, especially after having read the book first. This is because every written story leaves space for the imagination, whereas every movie draws a definite picture of the story and is the last word of director. Maybe we love missing parts because we love to complete.
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