Monday, April 28, 2014


Pareidolia is the word for the phenomenon of seeing unplanned, or unintended images in artwork. Typically faces, the most famous example is probably the Man in the Moon.

 Leonardo da Vinci wrote this about pareidolia,

"If you look at any walls spotted with various stains or with a mixture of different kinds of stones, if you are about to invent some scene you will be able to see in it a resemblance to various different landscapes adorned with mountains, rivers, rocks, trees, plains, wide valleys, and various groups of hills. You will also be able to see divers combats and figures in quick movement, and strange expressions of faces, and outlandish costumes, and an infinite number of things which you can then reduce into separate and well conceived forms."

ndeed, uneven surfaces, textures, broken brush strokes all seem to add to the effect.

Below are a couple of examples of my paintings that I've been told have unintended images in them:

Can you spot the pareidolia? I've been told that the top image has a man's face with a beard and white hair, in the clouds, sort of like Santa Claus. In the next painting I've been told there are fighting beasts with gnashing teeth, eyes, and guns. But then, someone else saw flowers and stars.

Like Rorschach blots, when it comes to pareidolia, state of mind seems to have a lot to do with what one does or doesn't see.

For fun, here are some links to more obvious examples:

Martian Face

Monkey Tree

Skull Flower


Ms Steen said...

Oh, nice ones! In the top one I see a stone rose stretching towards a ghostly vulture in flight. In the bottom one l see sea monsters clashing, but then there is a person standing there firm and calm in the eye of the storm :)

Kathryn Hansen said...

Huh...there's a name for it!! I see an owl in the first painting and a face in the rocks in the second one! Very cool...learned something new today!!! :)

Ms Steen said...

Oh,I also see the owl now :)

Katherine Kean said...

Good job, both of you!

Doesn't it seem like clouds and rocks are excellent surfaces for seeing various pareidolia effects?

jeronimus said...

Hi Katherine
You've raised a good point here.
Sometimes when a painter has been working on an image for a long time, they may fail to see the unplanned pareidolias that could be obvious to others.
It's good to set paintings aside for a while, if time allows, and look at them with a fresh eye. Some pareidolias could be distracting or comical, or even "inappropriate".

Katherine Kean said...

Jeronimus - exactly! Putting paintings aside for a time is important and helps show other problems too. It helps as well to have other people take a look.

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