The picture you can see here is what is known as an optical illusion, some may even go as far as calling it a scary illusion. At first glance you might see two young people deeply in love as the man serenades the woman, or perhaps you see two senior citizens looking deep into one another’s eyes and smiling lovingly at the other. Maybe if you’re like me, an alcoholic, you see the golden chalice between them which could easily hold a nice frothy beverage. This scary illusion holds it all and what you see in the painting all depends on your own mind. No matter which of these things you might perceive you are not wrong.
This famous painting is called “Old couple or musician” and it was created by the great Salvador Dali. Dali was known for his love of painting optical illusions and this is perhaps his most well known application of that effect. An optical illusion occurs when your eye and your brain misinterpret the reality of an image, they can be used for a fun visual effect in movies or if you’re a moth they can be a means of survival out in the wild.
Whether or not this is a scary illusion is really based on the person looking at the painting. Here is my interpretation of this particular work: an older couple are looking at one another remembering what each looked like when they were younger. As you can see on the right side of the image the male is smiling playing a stringed instrument, however in the background you can also see a female looking on from the archway as he plays music. I believe this is the old woman on the left staring at him in her youth, in contrast he is looking at her and sees her younger self on the left side. The chalice between them could signify anything really, such as the grail of life which legend says prolongs a human’s life, or it could symbolize the concept of life being a struggle, which should involve a quest for a higher meaning and purpose.
Some people interpret this piece as unsettling or spooky as well, and I could definitely see that, the faces do look skeletal in some respects and Dali enjoyed invoking dark or frighting feelings within his audience. Another interpretation of this piece that is also a bit darker: that the man on the right is remembering when he was young and is in fact recalling a different woman in the back of his mind as he looks on at his aging spouse, that he is lusting after what could have been or even another girl in the present.
That’s the great thing about optical illusions, scary illusions, and art in general. They paintings can be many different things to different people. I highly recommend taking a look at some of Dali’s other paintings we’ve featured here and enjoying his optical illusions along with me.