Fractal Shapes in Nature and Art

If you look at an aerial picture of a coastline, you can’t tell without a scale bar whether it is a mile long or fifty miles long. This appearance of different objects that may look the same depending on scale is called fractal. You can see fractal appearances in art and nature very often. Think of an edge of a cloud or the way that a branch of a tree resembles the entire tree. Some biologists say that fractals are the geometry of the world around us. Many natural fractals look as if they don’t have any order to them. However, if you examine them thoroughly, you would notice that they do have hidden logic to them.

While there is no exact perfect symmetry in a tree or a mountain, there’s usually ordered hierarchical repetition. The same shape keeps reappearing but changes the scale.

Natural patterns such as the bee’s honeycomb surprise people are a subject for scientific studies and an inspiration to so many artists precisely because they are so rare. Typically, you do not see such a strict order in nature. Whether it is a tree, a mountain or a body of water, what people observe in the wild often has a lot of disorder about it.

However, most of the natural structures in the world around us have hidden patterns. The logic becomes obvious only if you use mathematics to describe it, but you often can see some sort of structure even without using specialized scientific knowledge. For example, even to the naked eye, it is obvious that there’s something interesting and pleasant about a tree that simply doesn’t exist when some random parts come together. It is not very hard to find out what it is about a tree that makes it special. The shape can be very complex and not easy to describe, but you can explain easily what is going on when you focus on shape as a result of a process that creates it.