Art and Mind

The human mind is a very powerful
tool and organ. There are however
imperfections in the way it
processes things. Illusions for
example, are visual stimuli that
trick the brain because the brain
cannot process all visual images
correctly. Why do we see puddles
forming up the road while we are
driving in our cars on a hot summer
day? Why do some parts of a drawing
look bigger when in fact they are
smaller? There have been many
artists that have used illusions in
their paintings, M.C. Escher, Scott
Kim, and Salvador Dali. Each artist
employed a different illusionary
style. In Dali’s works of art, he
often uses perceptual ambiguity and
we often see hidden faces of
himself or others that are painted
into his paintings. To see these
images, we must step away and look
at certain objects from a different

We must first comprehend why
illusions happen to begin exploring
perceptual ambiguity. To answer the
first question proposed above, we
must understand that heat makes
light waves bend. So, the light
streaming in from the sky doesn\'t
travel in a straight line to your
eye from up above, it comes to your
eye from a different direction, in
fact it looks like its coming from
the pavement. So your brain doesn\'t
quite know how to interpret it, it
sees a patch of sky right in the
middle of the road, and ends up
thinking that its a puddle of
water. This is also what happens in
deserts, when the heat distorts
light from the sky to make look
like there\'s a lake in the middle
of the sand. So why do we see
illusions in works of art? Well, we
know that the brain processes
whatever it is fed. For example, if
something is small, your brain
thinks it\'s far away. If something
is your brain thinks it\'s up close.
There are other assumptions that
your brain makes too, all based on
the fact that it remembers what
it\'s seen before, and assumes that
what it sees now will be similar.
Of course, all things small are not
far away and all things big are not
close, so sometimes your brain
makes an assumption and it’s wrong.

Perceptual ambiguity or double
imagery has been around

for a long time. One of the
earliest examples of this
phenomenon is a picture of an old
woman and a younger one where one
can see one or the other depending
on what features one focus’s on
first. One’s view of this image

remains static until the viewer
starts to pay attention to

different regions and contours.
Researchers have found that certain
regions will favor one perception
from the other. Once a certain
feature is identified as one part
of the face, the viewer can follow
the lines that develop from that
feature and fill in the rest of the
picture, creating another different
stable view. The human visual
system tends to group like or
related regions together, so we
cannot see the two mixed views at
one time. Researchers have also
found that we do not need to shift
our gaze for the image to reverse.
The reversal may happen, but it
usually happens at a slower rate.
One test was done where the image
was stabilized onto the retina, so
any eye movements would have no
effect perception wise during the
subject’s viewing. This indicated
that higher cortical processing was
occurring during the viewing of the
image, which in turn indicated that
viewing anything is an active
process. The human brain needs to
process information in order to
make sense out of it.

Salvador Dali was a Surrealist that
also used perspective ambiguity in
his works. Dali was a Spaniard,
born in 1904 in Figueres, Spain. As
he was growing up he attended the
San Fernando Academy of Fine Arts
in Madrid, and three years after
his first one-man show in 1925,
became internationally renowned. He
was a big part of the Surrealist
movement until war broke out and
his apolitical attitude clashed
with the Surrealists’. He was
pushed out of the Surrealist
movement after a trial, but many
still associated him with
Surrealism, and showed his
paintings at Surrealist
exhibitions. After a couple of
years, he moved onto a new style,
where he was preoccupied with
religion and science. Dali died
from heart failure and respiratory
complications in 1989.

In 1962, Dali painted a painting
titled "Vision of Hell," which
combined his Surrealistic style
with his classical style. In this
painting, the viewer can see three
images of a face or person, which
some say looks like Dali himself.

The first image can be seen in the
upper center part of the painting,
next to the divine figure of either
Mary or Christ. The second can be
seen in the lower left center part
of the painting, forming from a
puff of smoke. The last and most
dominant face in the painting can
be seen by focusing on the black
drops just a little left of center.
They can be viewed as tears falling
from an eye,