Exercise 1.1 – Part 1 – Pareidolia

Text snippet taken from Understanding Visual Culture

Exercise 1.1 Look at the painting The Eye of Silence and see whether you can distinguish the intended from unintended faces. Which seem most ambiguous? Look up the term ‘pareidolia’. Find and record three examples, at least one of which should be seen in nature.


Before starting with the analysis of The Eye of Silence I will layout a definition of pareidolia.

Etymology [1] of the word leads us to the Greek language:

  • the adjective para (παρά, “beside, alongside, instead [of]”)
  • the noun eidōlon (εἴδωλον “image, form, shape”—the diminutive of eidos)

combine the word of pareidolia which give us a hint of the meaning of the word.

The term is used for naming the phenomenon of humans seeing, hearing or otherwise experiencing a known image, sound or figure where there is none. The information provided is random but the human brain interprets it with additional meaning. This definition is quite general and is representing any kind of recognition of a pattern or shape in e.g. clouds in the sky where one could recognise an animal shape.

In visual art this phenomenon has been used as a deliberate tool to gain attention of the spectator as explained by Leanne Christie [2] in her video Pareidolia or why good representational painting is abstract [3].

She defines the experience of seeing something familiar but not really there as:

“The feeling even at it’s mildest cannot be described as relaxation, nor is it pleasure, it is uncomfortable and maybe at it’s extreme it is confusing or repulsive.” [3]

During her talk she transits to building the argument of the painter communicating with the spectator trough the painting. By using pareidolia the painter can open up the first step in the relationship with the consumer of their art:

“Painting is relationship between the viewer and artist and the painting itself is the communication in that relationship.  So when painting it is important to think about the person who is standing on the other side of the canvas, who are they, how do they understand the world, what are the mechanics of their thinking, what is it that makes them feel and in what way do they feel and what is your story, what is your concept?” [3]

Using this powerful tool

“… to suggest and provide just enough stimulation to the viewer so that they move from passivity to active participant in the painting relationship” [3]

the artist can engage the viewer from being merely physically present in front of a painting to being emotionally, intellectually and spiritually involved in the experience the piece of art is providing:


[1] Pareidolia – Wikipedia. 2017. Pareidolia – Wikipedia. [ONLINE] Available at: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pareidolia#Etymology. [Accessed 16 June 2017].

[2] Leanne Christie oil painter. 2017. Leanne Christie oil painter. [ONLINE] Available at: http://leannechristie.com/. [Accessed 16 June 2017].

[3] Leanne Christie oil painter. 2017. Pareidolia or why good representational art is abstract. | Leanne Christie oil painter. [ONLINE] Available at: https://leannechristie.com/pareidolia-or-why-good-representational-art-is-abstract/. [Accessed 16 June 2017].


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