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Artistic Optical Illusions

Updated on January 6, 2010

Optical Illusion: A Tree of Ten Faces? Or Just a Tree?


That's the magic of optical think you see something but in reality it is something else. Or, what you are looking at is actually something morphing into something else, or not what it looks like at all!

Perceptions, we all have them. Recent interactions with individuals in my life have confirmed this forgone conclusion that everything is just an illusion; we see through filters that we have in place either physiologically or psychologically, and that is how we see the world. Yet, if we can come to understand that what one sees may in fact not be what is thought to be seen, then we open ourselves up to a whole universe of possibilities; thus, breaking down barriers that serve no function except to divide, limit, and constrain.

This lens speaks to this idea by looking at the fascinating phenomenon of artistic optical illusions. But hang on to your seat because some of these are pretty freaky.

Oh, and I have to thank my long time friend Wayne Smith for sending me an email with some of these illusions on them. It helped to provide me with a means of expressing what I have been wanting to say about the whole idea of perception and illusion, and the sorts of things that can go along with them.

So thanks Wayne, I love you!

Are Things Ever As They Appear?

Spinning Dancer

The Spinning Dancer is a kinetic, bistable optical illusion resembling a pirouetting female dancer. Some observers initially see the figure as spinning clockwise and some counterclockwise. Additionally, some may see the figure suddenly spin in the opposite direction. The illusion derives from an inherent ambiguity from the lack of visual cues for depth. There are other optical illusions that originate from the same or similar kind of visual ambiguity, such as the Necker cube.


Awesome Books about Optical Illusions

Grand Illusion

Square A is exactly the same shade of grey as square B.

The same color illusion—also known as Adelson's checker shadow illusion, checker shadow illusion and checker shadow—is an optical illusion published by Edward H. Adelson, Professor of Vision Science at MIT in 1995.[1] The squares A and B on the illusion are the same color (or shade), although they seem to be different. This can be proven by sampling the colors of A and B in an image-editing program, which will show that they are in fact the same color. By erasing everything except the two labelled squares, the effect of the illusion can be removed.

Same Color Illusion

Apparently, by erasing everything except the two labelled squares, the effect of the illusion can be removed.

Color Illusion

In this illusion, the second card from the left seems to be a stronger shade of pink in the top picture. In fact they are the same colour, but the brain changes its assumption about colour due to the colour cast of the surrounding photo.

The Famous Duck-Rabbit Ambiguous Image

Is it a duck? Is it a rabbit?

"The subject of a gestalt demonstration knows that his perception has shifted because he can make it shift back and forth repeatedly while he holds the same book or piece of paper in his hands. Aware that nothing in his environment has changed, he directs his attention increasingly not to the figure (duck or rabbit) but to the lines of the paper he is looking at. Ultimately he may even learn to see those lines without seeing either of the figures, and he may then say (what he could not legitimately have said earlier) that it is these lines that he really sees but that he sees them alternately as a duck and as a rabbit. ...As in all similar psychological experiments, the effectiveness of the demonstration depends upon its being analyzable in this way. Unless there were an external standard with respect to which a switch of vision could be demonstrated, no conclusion about alternate perceptual possibilities could be drawn." -- Thomas Kuhn, The Structure of Scientific Revolutions (3rd edn., p. 114).

Optical Illusions

The Ultimate Book of Optical Illusions
The Ultimate Book of Optical Illusions

Prepare to be amazed! Inside the covers of this incredible, colorful collection are hundreds of the world's most powerful optical illusions. They're beautiful to behold, and stunning in their trickery. Some of the mind-boggling images seem to spring into action, vibrating, pulsing, and spinning like a hula hoop. Other ambiguous illusions feature two subjects in one: the fun is in finding them both in the single picture-including a mouse playing hide and seek in a cat's face and a strange desert mirage where palm trees imperceptibly morph into camels. And still more, like "The Impossible Terrace," which couldn't exist off the page: just try to figure out if you're viewing the space from above or below. Every one is astonishing.


More Optical Illusions

Amazing Optical Illusions
Amazing Optical Illusions

From School Library Journal

Grade 3-5–A great introduction to the world and art of optical illusion. After a brief lead-in to the topic, 29 images are presented, all set against white backgrounds. At the top of each page, a challenge or question is set forth. After examining each crisp illusion, readers can turn to the clear explanation or suggestion offered at the bottom of the page. Most of the pictures are classics, e.g., the elephant with the lost leg, and therefore they may be familiar to children who have seen other books on the subject. Still, this title is sure to find enthusiasts in every library.–Cynde Suite, Bartow County Library System, Adairsville, GA

Copyright Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to the Library Binding edition.


Physiological illusions

Physiological illusions, such as the afterimages following bright lights, or adapting stimuli of excessively longer alternating patterns (contingent perceptual aftereffect), are presumed to be the effects on the eyes or brain of excessive stimulation of a specific type - brightness, tilt, color, movement, etc. The theory is that stimuli have individual dedicated neural paths in the early stages of visual processing, and that repetitive stimulation of only one or a few channels causes a physiological imbalance that alters perception.

Videos about Optical Illusions

Not Animated...But Moving

At least that's what I see...

Your eyes are making them move. To test this, stare at one spot in each picture for a few seconds and everything will stop moving; OR look at the black center of each circle in the first picture, and it will stop moving; but when you move your eyes to the next black center, the previous one will move after you take your eyes away from it.

Follow the Pink, No Green, No Pink Dots


If your eyes follow the movement of the rotating pink dot, the dots will remain only one color, pink. However if you stare at the black " +" in the center, the moving dots turns to green.

Now, concentrate on the black " + " in the center of the picture. After a short period, all the pink dots will slowly disappear, and you will only see only a single green dot rotating.

It's amazing how our brain works. There really is no green dot, and the pink ones really don't disappear. This should be proof enough, we don't always see what we think we see.


Word Play

In black you can read the word GOOD; but the word EVIL also appears in white letters inside each black letter.

Optical or Illusion?

You may not see it at first, but the white spaces create the word OPTICAL,while the blue landscape spells out ILLUSION.

Tricky, Tricky!

This one is quite tricky! The word TEACH reflects as LEARN.

Is it You or is it Me?

You probably read the word ME in brown, but....... when you look through ME you will see YOU!

Do you need to look again?


Bean Face

The "illusion" is that this is just a picture of coffee beans; but it is not. Can you find a man's face among the beans? Some say that if you find the man in 3 seconds or less, the right half of your brain may be more well developed than most.

I don't know, maybe my right brain is shot.

A Baker's Dozen or a Dozen Dudes... That Could Be Bakers?

Have you ever swore you heard or saw something and someone said "oh no you didn't"? You KNOW you heard or saw what you saw...until that is, you took a moment to see it from a different perspective.

How many human faces can you find in this picture?

There are probably more than you first see, so keep trying.

How did you do?


Artistic Optical Illusions

Reader Feedback

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    • profile image


      6 years ago

      I can count 11 questions, can you name them all?

    • MillBucks profile image


      6 years ago

      Wow, these are amazing! I love the face in the coffee beans, guess I have been drinking too much cause it took me like a minute to find him, lol.

    • profile image


      6 years ago

      the spinning dancer has her left foot in the air when spinning counter clock wise, then switches to her right leg when she goes clockwise. she kinda made me dizzy, but super cool stuff! :D

    • profile image


      6 years ago

      See Optical Illusions and Visual Phenomena

    • LewesDE profile image


      6 years ago

      Quality information!

    • profile image


      6 years ago

      Very cool!

    • profile image


      6 years ago

      Wow, these optical illusions I couldn't even tell until I read about what they contained like the faces in trees. Some were easy like the kissing couple in the rose. The checkerboard threw me off because I couldn't tell they were the same shade of gray. Keep the illusions coming!

    • profile image


      7 years ago

      These are so cool - what a great collection. I like your point that things are not always what you think they are. Now to go stare at a nice, still mountain for a while and uncross my eyes (or is it a turtle?) Blessed by your neighborhood squid angel

    • profile image


      9 years ago



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