As I sit here staring out my window at the cedar trees, I don’t just see green fir boughs. I see faces. Sometimes, there are wise, thoughtful faces and other times smiling, silly faces. I see cute dogs and cats, sometimes bears, foxes and crows, too. (I outlined a few in the photo above. )
Do I see these because I’m an artist? Is it the gift of an active imagination? Or am I crazy?
Believe or not, this ability is called Pareidolia. It’s the ability to see faces in unusual places. Examples of this ability abound all across the globe including, the Shroud of Turin, the face on Mars from Viking 1 mission, Mother Teresa on a cinnamon bun in Tennessee.
I am not alone.
Many people have pareidolia. Carl Sagan wrote that the ability is tied to survival and the need to recognize human faces in difficult conditions. Leonardo de Vinci noted the ability to see a scene in spots on a wall as an artistic ability. Some artists use Pareidolia as a creative device in their work.
Even psychologists use it in Rorschach tests, asking patients what they see in the indiscriminate ink blots, as a way to test their state of mind. (Here’s my Rorschach test: find the elephant in the photo below. Hint: right lower quadrant)
Does this make me special? No, not really.
At first, I figured everyone could see it too. And when I pointed it out and they didn’t, I figured they just weren’t looking hard enough. Science bears me out on this, as 65% of us have this ability.
Has it influenced my art and writing. Most definitely. Many of my early sculptural pieces were all about stories of animals, people and the magic of the natural world that surrounds us all. My fascination with creating masks is influenced by pareidolia. I’d say my functional ceramics are a departure into the normal world but then, I see how the patterns and shapes mimic tree leaves, clouds and, yes, faces are imprinted on some pieces, too.
As a kid, I thought I was odd because family and friends didn’t see these faces around them. But I also remember feeling comforted staring up at the clouds or into the trees. I loved sitting in stillness and quiet and peace.
I still do. It’s my little corner of beauty and I don’t have to go anywhere special to find it. All I have to do is stare out my window. Any day. Any time.