Is there a word for when something looks correct when wrong? For instance in art, drawing something that technically would be wrong in reality, but drawing it correctly actually looks wrong and drawing it wrong looks correct.

I used to perform magic and I thought there was a term for this.

  • 4
    You mean an illusion?
    – Cascabel
    Nov 16 '20 at 16:22

This is the concept behind optical balance or compositional balance, which is part of the Gestalt theory that a design needs to "feel right" as a whole, rather than simply adhering to geometric definitions that may be quantitatively "correct" but look wrong.

This website shows some great examples of designs that simply look better when the quantitative rules are ignored. Examples include making shapes different sizes so that they appear to be the same size, darkening colors on text so that it appears to be the same color as an adjacent shape, or misaligning text so that it appears properly aligned. Subtleties in the human visual system can cause us to see differences where there actually are none, so sometimes a design will purposefully make things "wrong" so that they appear to be "right".

  • From the first para of your linked text " This is called an optical illusion. Optical illusion also applies to design."
    – Cascabel
    Nov 16 '20 at 19:49
  • 1
    @Cascabel Very true, but perhaps worth noting that an optical illusion can operate in both directions - it can make something wrong look right, or make something right look wrong. Nov 16 '20 at 19:51
  • In that case, this Q becomes over-broad, or possibly needing clarification. Many artists of the Renaissance. and Pre-, not to mention Greek and Egyptian, used to correct "imperfections" of their clients in portraits and statuary to account for deformities and genetic defects. The objective was to present an idealized image which conformed to cultural concepts of beauty. On the other hand, others showed all the warts on the nose. That said, your post seems to be based also on "correcting" the illusion, and so not an explanation.
    – Cascabel
    Nov 16 '20 at 20:14
  • Lining things up by apparent size and correcting for color addition and subtraction have been within the domain of graphic artists for many years.
    – Cascabel
    Nov 16 '20 at 20:23

This sounds like a paradox illusion. If this is obvious skip to the bottom.


An instance of a wrong or misinterpreted perception of a sensory experience.


From that we have the broadly-termed optical illusion...

An optical illusion (also called a visual illusion) is an illusion caused by the visual system and characterized by a visual percept that arguably appears to differ from reality. Illusions come in a wide variety; their categorization is difficult because the underlying cause is often not clear, but a classification proposed by Richard Gregory is useful as an orientation. According to that, there are three main classes: physical, physiological, and cognitive illusions, and in each class there are four kinds: Ambiguities, distortions, paradoxes, and fiction

The most common examples I can think of include Escher drawings

enter image description here

...which are sometimes called a paradox illusion.

Paradox illusions (or impossible object illusions) are generated by objects that are paradoxical or impossible, such as the Penrose triangle or impossible staircase seen, for example, in M. C. Escher's Ascending and Descending and Waterfall.

Other examples of optical illusions from the 1960s abound...

enter image description here

A complete list of the classes of illusions can be found at Wikipedia.

[Emphasis in citations is mine]

  • I'm starting to doubt my own answer so if you guys wanna DV I won't mind. That, or help me edit.
    – Cascabel
    Nov 16 '20 at 21:11

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