Lately, I’ve been thinking a bit about the “Haunted Painting Effect.”
That’s my own name for a certain kind of optical illusion that periodically surfaces online. The most commonly circulated examples tend to involve Vincent van Gogh’s The Starry Night and a spinning animation—that’s what caught my art-critic eye. Look at the animation long enough and then look at Van Gogh’s painting, and the painting seems to become animated itself, his Post-Impressionist sky seeming to seethe with actual movement.
It’s a cool trick—but the examples I’ve seen didn’t really explain it. It turns out that this particular illusion is pretty well-studied. It’s called “Motion Aftereffect,” or MAE. One version is the “Waterfall Effect,” so named because if you look long enough at a waterfall and then look away, the rocks around the landscape will also seem to move.
The effects can be spooky. And once they understand how the effect works, I think artists and art fans might have a lot of fun with it. So I’ve put together this short video essay on the idea.
Keep in mind that the longer you look at a given pattern of motion, the longer the effect lasts. If you want a more dramatic version of the effect, just look for longer at any of these various animated patterns.
(NOTE: This video contains flickering patterns.)
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