The same basic elements used by this picture’s designers to get a stereo-scopic image — and it really is amazing — were used less rigorously and with more nuance by 19th century French painter Paul Cezanne to create a sense of depth in still life.  Following in his case instinct not science, Cezanne watched and observed — sometimes with great annoyance — the ways that the edges of things would shift in space because of the different angles of vision between the right and left eyes.

This constant jumping around of contours to which the artist over time became extremely sensitive adds a deep irony to his famous remonstrance to a wigglesome model.  “Does an apple move?!” he’s reported as saying.  Well, yes, as a matter of fact, it does.  Certainly in a Cezanne still life apples, peaches and other fruits appear to move about quite a bit.  And following this optical path faithfully to its natural conclusion, Cezanne created images of surprisingly evocative dimension.  While his pictures are not stereo-scopic, they come as close perhaps as art can come to being there.

And just as with the confusing image above, a certain amount of staring is required — even in Cezanne — to get the full sensation of space.  The optical illusion is an exceedingly clever trick of science, whereas Cezanne’s art is a thousand-fold more subtle.  In both cases, though, objects with multiple contours is the ticket.

What has illusion to say about truth and context and attention?  That we see only a small fraction of what life presents to the mind.

I tried viewing the illusion on my computer screen and it does work with a large image.  Whether it works at this scale … I’m not sure.  To see the image hidden inside the pattern you have to focus beyond the picture plane as though looking at a distant object.  Some serious patience and staring is required at first.  However, after you’ve located the picture, you can retrain your brain to find it again at a faster pace.  It’s also possible to see the opposite of the intended image (a kind of “mold” of it) by focusing in front of the image.

I use this copyrighted material without permission, and for that reason I strongly urge all readers finding this post to immediately purchase National Geographic Kids for each of your children, for yourselves, for your large extended families, for your neighbors and for their kids, for total strangers you stumble upon — and that alone ought to add up to at least 120 subscriptions per reader.  It’s a great magazine!  So, it’s well worth shelling out the big bucks.

Lawyers for National Geographic Kids who do not find this endorsement strong enough can write to me at my delux office suite at the Radisson Hotel in Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia. Come visit my store on CafePress!

[Top of the post:  Optical illusion from National Geographic Kids.  Courtesy of National Geographic Kids.  With many, many deep grateful thanks to National Geographic Kids, the world’s, solar system’s the Universe’s best ever kids magazine.]


6 thoughts on “Effusive Illusions

  1. Ah, I like these 3D pictures 🙂 This one is especially fun because it has several layers.

    “What has illusion to say about truth and context and attention? That we see only a small fraction of what life presents to the mind.”

    Indeed, humans have some senses to perceive the world, but they can only catch a part of the spectrum. We try to do our best and have some view of the universe. However, while an antenna can pick up several frequencies, vast number is out of its range.

  2. Yes, the senses are partial & I’m wondering if ideas aren’t layered too and that sometimes we don’t see the enormous spectrum associated with an idea because we focus on just one part.
    In the past I never could see the image in this kind of illusion. This time it “clicked.” And I was really delighted to see the “opposite” image too!

  3. I watched the video! Ooh la la! Hey, who needs the artist? Maybe we could replace him with some tools too. Robots, anyone?

    Thanks for the link. It’s a hoot!


  4. I don’t know if you’ll ever see this but I remember having this issue of National Geographic kids with this picture. I was really surprised I was able to find it online. Thanks for scanning it! I could never really get the illusion to work as a kid and I still don’t think I can, oof.

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