Winslow Homer - The Obtuse Bard (draft 20150402) screen 005
This is the cover of Harper's Christmas issue from 1882. It is an idealized creation by Elihu Vedder. We can be quite sure that Vedder never actually saw a moon that looked like this. We can be sure there is little correspondence between the natural form as it existed in Nature and the idealized image Vedder created in his mind. Unlike the actual "man in the moon," this idealized image dominates and replaces the natural scene. The clouds and the moon are realistic, but the face area does not double as a representation of Nature, so much so that in this case, we cannot call the face a pareidolia. We recognize that the picture is not meant to be a realistic representation of physical Nature as it exists, since this "man in the moon" is not similar to "the man in the moon" as it appears in Nature.

Imagine, the theoretical possibility of an artist who wants to paint Nature realistically, who wants to be true to Nature, and who, at the same time, also wants his paintings to include all of the illusions of pareidolia that appeared in his mind. If this were possible, the paintings produced would be true to Nature without obvious distortions, and, at same time, the artist's imagined spiritual objects would somehow be sufficienly represented in form so that they can be perceived as seen by the artist. In the art would be the record of the physical objects the artist saw and painted from Nature along with the pareidolia that were somehow suggested by the forms in Nature, and then also recorded as they appeared to the artist. Even though painted into the artwork, those personal spiritual appearances might remain the private world of the artist for a very long time, perhaps forever.

Consider this as well. Even if a viewer did in fact see one of those extra images, a pareidolia, in the work of art, the viewer might be likely to regard that perception as a personal projection, a reaching out, since the usual clue to the artist's intention, provided by the distortion of Nature, is minimal and not noticed. Such an artist's work might succeed in leading a viewer to the perception of the intended spiritual object, but the viewer, thinking it was his, or her, idea, would regard it a mere product of his, or her, imagination, not recognizing the artist's role in that perception.

Although Vedder's moon and face is not true to Nature, the image of that face is clearly and obviously an allusion to the "Man in the Moon."

Copyright 1992-2015 Peter Bueschen
The presentation is available at The Obtuse Bard website