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The visual anagram and dyslexia

Updated on April 22, 2010

The visual anagram and dyslexia.

I think in some ways, visually ambiguous effects are linked to dyslexia. I never knew I had it as a child or even an adult. I'm sure it held me back. But looking back, it now seems obvious that I've grown out of these problems, but it took about 30 years. Of the listed symptoms, these were my issues as a child:

  • Tracking from one line to another was difficult.

  • Reading or writing shows repetitions, additions, transpositions, omissions, substitutions, and reversals in letters, numbers and/or words.

  • Complains of feeling or seeing non-existent movement while reading, writing, or copying.

  • Reads and rereads with little comprehension.

  • Spelling phonetically and inconsistently.

  • Had extended hearing; heard things not said or apparent to others; easily distracted by sounds.

  • Trouble with writing or copying.

  • Poor memory for sequences, facts and information that has not been experienced.

  • Extremely disorderly.

I could not spell at all well until I was about 35 years old, and I think that this is still a problem. I'll come across words that I cannot fathom. In fact, so bad is this that sometimes, I can't even prompt the spell checker to get close or work out enough to look it up in a dictionary. Every word that I now do recognise as poorly spelt is only due to site-recognition. Basically, it's lots of practice and rote without any intuitive feel for spelling. If I don't know it, and the word has any significant complexity, then I have no idea. But luckily, for those that I have learned, when badly spelled, they dance on the page as this is a visual pattern-recognition task. What complicated my word development for so long was differences between American and British spelling. I still get these muddled, but tend to blog in American and write locally in British.

But, for what it's worth in various testing, I've scored somewhere between 110 on a bad day and 147 for general intelligence, and 160+ on isolated visually oriented tasks. I guess this is compensation for my shortfall in the word department, and the visual spatial ability serves me well in the 'making things' department – and probably why art is such a prominent feature in my psyche. On word-oriented tests I've had a couple of testers look at me as if I was some kind of moron barely able to tie shoe-laces but baffled and intrigued by a 99.999th percentile visual-spatial ability. In reality, I could tie my shoelaces by age five, but you get the picture. I mention this because, should you be involved personally somehow with some kind of dyslexic trouble, then take heart, with practice it can sometimes be eliminated - or nearly so, and it's common to find people with visual dyslexia excel in the world of art, creativity, memory and several other compensating skills . Some of my art is here should you wish to take a look. So take pander to your own particular skills, and embrace the paths available to you in your life.

There is a great collection of visual anagrams available on the internet. Please take a look at those illusions and read on.

Postmodern man by Ed Newman / Ennyman
Postmodern man by Ed Newman / Ennyman

Enough of the babble and on to what really prompted this article: We all know about word anagrams, and some will have seen visual anagrams where the picture on view contains two competing and sometimes contrasting images. The viewer can't reliably rest in one particular mode. Paintings and images which exhibit this characteristic are a treat, and I've got a good one for you here, from Ed Newman / Ennyman.

A studio critique of a visually ambiguous work.

Please see Ed's site for more artwork. He's got a good portfolio.

This is my studio critique and interpretation of this interesting artwork. Hopefully, you will be able to see the link between such an impressionist painting and the visual anagram.

The most striking feature of this rather amazing painting is it's ambiguity. Clearly there is a face, and a head, but the back of the head is divorced from the face, and in the space between lies a tiny hint of an industrialized dock yard or other heavy post industrial revolutionary activity. It cleverly, mildly, frustratingly flips between that scene and a broken face. This is a picture of a man, one who cannot reveal secrets under threat from whistle-blower vigilantes or some other oppression, for he has no discernible mouth. Closer inspection reveals that his face is actually a mask since it is hollow, and layered with other tantalizing impressions of other facial silhouettes. To the left we find a smoggy dark and dirty patch which is probably leaking from the man's thoughts, and juxtaposed to that, we find contrasting hints of a blue sky, and the clean fresh air of a country farm. Perhaps that is where his heart really lies. Ed has managed to introduce just the right compositional elements with stark black and white diagonal patterns of the man's attire, and balanced shapes and colors throughout to create a painting that any collector would be proud to own.


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