A) Look at the painting ‘The Eye of Silence‘ and see whether you can distinguish the intended from unintended faces. Which seem most ambiguous?
The German born artist Max Ernst made the painting ‘The Eye of Silence‘ during World War II (1943-4) while living in exile in the USA. Ernst was one of surrealist artists who were influenced by S. Freud’s notion of dreams as a symbolic access into the human mind. They explored the deliberation of the unconsciousness and the irrational aspects of the human imagination and subconscious desires. Ernst applied in this painting the automatic surrealistic technique of decalcomania – a techniques that forces a random application of paint on a surface leaving more or less ambiguous patterns. Automatism was a notion initiated by André Breton (1896 – 1966) who defined the avant-garde movement in his ‘Manifeste du Surréalisme’ in 1924. He defined surrealism as a “psychic automatism in its pure state, by which one proposes to express – verbally, by means of the written word, or in any other manner – the actual functioning of thought. ” (Schaffeld, 24 Nov 2016)
At first look the painting resembles a dreamlike lake or grotto scene under a clouded sky. Surrounded as an enclave by green and brown ambiguous shapes that could be read as grotto formations (rock and salt) or stone ruins. The sphinx-like human figure in the foreground adds a mystic (intended) element to the scene and relates it to the human presence or absence. Through the ambiguous patterns and shapes the painting is highly suggestive and imaginative. It evokes imagery in the viewer’s mind of symbols and emotions stored in the human psyche. It is an unsettling and uncanny painting. By that it can be related to Max Ernst’s own experiences of alienation during the WWII.
One can detect several face or partial faces.
Seeing faces – intended and unintended (selection):
More ambiguous are the unintended ‘faces’ as the random marks and blots of paint can convey different meanings. And not everybody sees the same faces at the same position. It is a question of viewpoint and perhaps a bias for certain aspects of faces from experience.
In the context of ambiguous marks and decalcomania I experimented in my sketchbook with the technique and elaborated those random marks into a self portrait face. A combination of random, automatic patterns and a deliberate exploration of those patterns, adding shadows, following my unconsciousness mind and turning the image into a less ambiguous and deliberate image.
B) Look up the term ‘pareidolia’. Find and record three examples, at least one of which should be seen in nature.
Pareidolia is a psychological phenomenon related to a vague or random stimulus that is mistakenly perceived as recognizable. Psychologists considers this as a normal brain function. Highly ambiguous visual images lead to normal reaction of the brain in finding meaningful images in random patterns. This is mostly related to face image recognition as facial images are of high importance in our daily life. Common examples are perceiving images of faces in clouds or in the moon. Pareidolia is a type of illusion and it is than called pareidolic illusion. (Wiktionary)
As a normal human brain function one has to distinguish it from an abnormal disorder function of the brain. In the first case people can differentiate between the physical reality and the illusion.
As an abnormal human brain function pareidoloa can be linked to an obsessive–compulsive disorder. In that case people are reported to see e.g. visualizing faces of witches and gorillas out of floor tiles. (Fontenelle, 2008). In this case people can not differentiate easily between physical reality and illusion.
Examples of pareidolia:
- Researched examples [all online images accessed 08 Jan 2017]:
– Seeing faces in clouds (Example available from: https://joecruzmn.wordpress.com/2014/07/25/clouds-parting-after-storm-appear-to-show-god-like-man-in-the-sky-behold-he-is-coming-with-the-clouds/)
– The Rorschach Test: a projective psychological test developed in 1921 by using inkblots for testing the verbal response by people to evaluate personality characteristics, thought disorders, and emotional functioning. When looking at those randomly applied inkblots people need to say/write down what they perceive. (Available form: http://personality-testing.info/tests/HEMCR/)
– Seeing a man in the moon (Available from: http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2014/04/140412-moon-faces-brain-culture-space-neurology/)
– Seeing the face of the Virgin Mary on a toasted cheese sandwich (example available from: http://www.cbsnews.com/news/see-the-virgin-mary-on-toast-no-youre-not-crazy/)
– Seeing an ‘Angry bag‘: “Do you see a useful rucksack or an angry old bag? Psychologists say that some of us are more prone to facial pareidolia than others” – click here (Greenaway, 2015)
- My own found examples from nature
photos of objects in nature in Bern, Switzerland (Oct 2015), Ostrhauderfehn, Germany (Nov 2015), and Chatham (MA) USA (Apr 2016)
- Max Ernst ‘L’oeil du silence (The Eye of Silence)’, 1943–44 [online image] Available from: http://kemperartmuseum.wustl.edu/collection/explore/artwork/541 [accessed 08 Jan 2017]
- Eckmann, S. (2016) ‘Spotlight Essay: Max Ernst‘ Available from: http://www.kemperartmuseum.wustl.edu/node/11286 [accessed 10 Jan 2017]
- Fontenelle, LF (2008) ‘Pareidolias in obsessive-compulsive disorder: Neglected symptoms that may respond to serotonin reuptake inhibitors’ Neurocase. 2008;14(5):414-8. doi: 10.1080/13554790802422138. Epub 2008 Oct 10. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/18850462# [accessed 08 Jan 2017]
- Merriam Webster: ‘Medical Definition of pareidolia‘ Available from: https://www.merriam-webster.com/medical/pareidolia [accessed 08 Jan 2017]
- Naomi Greenaway (20 October 2015) “What do YOU see in these photos? If it’s faces, you suffer from pareidolia… it’s not a sign of madness but a well-wired brain” MailOnline
Available from: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/femail/article-3280816/What-photos-s-faces-suffer-facial-pareidolia.html [accessed 08 Jan 2017]
- Schaffeld, S. (weblog post, 24 Nov 2016) ‘Project 3 – Research Point: Expressive Landscape‘ Available from: http://ocapainting1.stefanschaffeld.com/?p=2899
- Wiktionary: ‘Pareidolia‘ Available from: https://en.wiktionary.org/wiki/Appendix:Glossary_of_psychiatry#P [accessed 08 Jan 2017]