Chapter 12 - Painting and Decorating: Optical Illusions in DecoratingOne of the problems with 'majority rule' is the majority is usually wrong. - Thomas Jefferson
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Chapter 12 - Painting and Decorating:
Optical Illusions in the Arts
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Chapter 12 - Painting and Decorating:
Optical Illusions in Decorating

All the means for success which the painter possesses are also available to the decorator; however, the decorator may make use of some of the optical illusions of irradiation, form, line, etc. which the architect uses. The decorator's field may be considered to include almost all of the painter's and much of the architect's. This being the case, little space will be given to this phase of the subject because painting and architecture are separately treated. The decorator should begin to realize more fully the great potentiality of lighting in creating moods or in giving expression to an interior. The psychology of light and the use of lighting as a mode of expression have barely been drawn upon by the decorator. Lighting has already been discussed so it will be passed by at this point.

The practice of hanging pictures on walls which are brilliantly colored is open to criticism. There are galleries in existence where paintings are hung on brilliant green or rose walls. The changes in the appearance of the object due to these highly colored environments are easily demonstrated by viewing a piece of white paper pinned upon the wall. On the green wall, the white paper appears pinkish; on the rose wall, it appears bluish or greenish. A portrait or a picture in which there are areas of white or delicate tints is subject to considerable distortions in the appearance of its colors. Similarly, if a woman must have a colored background, it is well to choose one which will induce the more desirable tints in her appearance. The designer of gowns certainly must recognize these illusions of color which may be desirable or undesirable.

The lighting of a picture has already been mentioned, but the discussion was confined solely to distribution of light. The quality of the light (its spectral character) may have an enormous influence upon the painting. In fact with the same painting many optical illusions may be produced by lighting. In general, paintings are painted in daylight and they are not the same in appearance under ordinary artificial light. For this reason the artist is usually entitled to the preservation of the optical illusion as he completed it. By using artificial daylight which has been available for some years, the painting appears as the artist gave it his last touch. Of course, it is quite legitimate to vary the quality of light in case the owner desires to do so, but the purpose here is to emphasize the fact that the quality of light is a powerful influence upon the appearance of the painting. The influence is not generally enough recognized and its magnitude is appreciated by relatively few persons.

All other considerations aside, a painting is best hung upon a colorless background and black velvet for this purpose yields remarkable results. Gray velvet is better, when the appearance of the room is taken into consideration, as it must be. However, the influence of dark surroundings toward enhancing the optical illusion is well worth recognizing. In the case of a special picture or a special occasion, a painting may be exhibited in a booth - a huge shadow-box not unlike a show-window in which the light-sources are concealed. Such experiments yield many interesting data pertaining to the optical illusions which the painter strives to obtain.

Incidentally on viewing some picture frames in which the grain of the wood was noticeable, the frames did not appear to be strictly rectangular.

Chapter 12 - Painting and Decorating: Optical Illusions in Decorating
Fig. 82. - Illustrating the apparent distortion of a picture frame
in which the grain of the wood is visible.

The optical illusions were so strong that only by measuring the frames could one be convinced that they were truly rectangular and possessed straight sides. Two of these are represented in Figs. 82 and 83. In the former, the horizontal sides appear bent upward in the middle and the two vertical sides appear bowed toward the right. In Fig. 83, the frame appears considerably narrower at the left end than at the right. Both these frames were represented in the original drawings by true rectangles.

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Fig. 83. - Another example similar to Fig. 82.

Many optical illusions are to be seen in furniture and in other woodwork in which the grain is conspicuous. This appears to the author to be an objection in general to this kind of finish. In Fig. 84 there is reproduced a photograph of the end of a board which was plane or straight notwithstanding its warped or bowed appearance. The original photographs were placed so as to be related as shown in the figure. Various degrees of the optical illusion are evident. The reader will perhaps find it necessary to convince himself of the straightness of the horizontal edges by applying a straight edge. These are examples of the same optical illusion as shown in Fig. 37, Fig. 38, Fig. 39, Fig. 40.

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Fig. 84. - From actual photographs of the end-grain of a board.

Perhaps a brief statement regarding the modern isms in art may be of interest. In considering some of the extreme examples, we must revise our idea that art is or should be always beautiful. The many definitions of art would lead us too far afield to discuss them here but in its most extended and popular sense, art may be considered to mean everything which we distinguish from nature. Certainly art need not be beautiful, although it does seem that the world would welcome the beautiful and would get along contentedly without art that is ugly or repulsive. The modern isms must be viewed with consideration, for there are many impostors concealing their inabilities by flocking to these less understood fields. However, there are many sincere workers - research artists - in the modern isms and their works may best be described at present as experiments in the psychology of light, shade, and color. They have cast aside or reduced in importance some of the more familiar components such as realism and are striving more deeply to utilize the psychology of light and color. Some of them admit that they strive to paint through child's eyes and mind - free from experience, prejudice, and imitation. These need all the scientific knowledge which is available - and maybe more.

In closing this chapter, it appears necessary to remind the artist and others that it is far from the author's intention to subordinate the artist's sensibility to the scientific facts or tools. Art cannot be manufactured by means of formulae. This would not be true if we knew a great deal more than we do pertaining to the science of light, color, and vision. The artist's fine sensibility will always be the dominating necessity in the production of art. He must possess the ability to compose exquisitely; he must be able to look at nature through a special temperament; he must be gifted in eye and in hand; he must be master of unusual visual and intellectual processes. But knowledge will aid him as well as those in other activities. A superior acquaintance with scientific facts lifted past masters above their fellows and what helped Leonardo da Vinci, Rembrandt, Velasquez, Turner, Claude, Monet, and other masters will help artists of today. What would not those past masters have accomplished if they had available in their time the greater knowledge of the present!

Continue on to Chapter 13 on Architecture

Chapter 12 - Painting and Decorating:
Optical Illusions in the Arts
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About This Book Preface Chap 1, Introduction Chap 2, The Eye Chap 3, Vision Chap 4, Geometrical Chap 5, Figures Chap 6, Angles Chap 7, Depth/Distance Chap 8 Brightness/Contrast Chap 9, Color Chap 10, Lighting Chap 11, Nature Chap 12, Painting/Decorating Chap 13, Architecture Chap 14, Magic Mirror Chap 15, Camouflage

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