It’s happened to all of us at some point. You see a report on the news that a famous person has passed away and you think to yourself, “I swear that already happened!”
Or a family member talks about an event that occurred years ago in the family that you have absolutely no knowledge or recollection of – but everyone else insists is common knowledge.
How about when you learned a fact in school that you would swear on your life was commonly known and taught but now see different information — or someone tells you what you thought you knew was never true.
What is this? Is it just bad or faulty memories? Did you just forget some information? Or did you learn incorrect information to begin with?
If you’ve ever recalled something that now no longer seems to exist – or remember something differently than what now seems to be true – you have experienced what some refer to as the Mandela Effect.
I first learned of this phenomenon while watching a YouTube video where the creator pointed out common Mandela effects, and I was fascinated, to say the least. After seeing more information on the topic, I started to wonder (as I always do), if I could connect what I learned to art.
Does art have Mandela effects, too?
I decided to find out. To my surprise, there are several well known art Mandela effects. I did some research and created a YouTube video on the subject about a year ago.
This one video started me down a path . . . a weird path. I am often fascinated with the weird side of life: the paranormal, strange events, weird true history facts, conspiracy theories, true crime, etc., etc. I had such fun with the Mandela effect video that I created more weird art videos and I now have a whole playlist of them on my channel.
For some reason, though – it never occurred to me that I should discuss these topics in blog posts, too. So that’s what I am planning to do. Please let me know if these types of topics interest you and if you would like to read more “Weird Art” blog posts. I find them to be entertaining and fascinating and if you do, too, I will be happy to create more!
With that said, let’s dive into today’s weird art topic: The Mandela Effect in Art.
What is the Mandela Effect?
Let’s start at the very beginning. What is the Mandela Effect?
According to dictionary.com:
So, to put it simply, the Mandela Effect is when a mass of people erroneously believe an event occurred that didn’t or a certain fact was or is true that isn’t.
The phrase “Mandela Effect” originated from an incident involving none other than former South African president Nelson Mandela.
Here is a quick rundown of the story behind the name. In 2009, an author named Fiona Broome was discussing the tragic death of former South African president Nelson Mandela. She remembered him dying in prison in the 1980’s. So did other people she discussed his death with.
Except Nelson Mandela was alive in 2009.
He didn’t die until 2013.
Which you could easily chalk up to one person misremembering an event, right? Except when Broome discussed this with others and then went on to post on her newly created website The Mandela Effect about the phenomenon, it turns out many people also thought Mandela died in prison in the 1980’s. Some remember hearing the news reports about his death. Some remember his widow giving a speech after his death.
How could so many people collectively remember an event that didn’t happen, complete with specific details?
Explaining the Mandela Effect
There’s two main camps when it comes to explaining this phenomenon:
- Alternate Realities
The alternate realities theory actually comes from Quantum Physics, which makes my head spin just reading the phrase. (A scientist I am not).
But the gist of this explanation is that even though it feels like we live on ONE timeline of events, it is possible that alternate timelines, universes and realities exist and mix with our “one” timeline. You know, parallel universes!
So for example, let’s say on one morning you got up late and missed your train.
This started a series of events in your day based on the train being missed – maybe you missed an important work meeting, or were not involved in a train crash because of it. The alternate realities theory proposes the possibility that there is another timeline that exists where you did make train, and the consequences of that happening played out on that timeline, but not on this one you’re currently living.
Phew. Nuts, right?
- Bad Memories
The bad memories explanation simply explains the Mandela effect phenomenon based on the common knowledge that our brain does a lot of things when forming a memory and then recalling a memory later on down the road. Things that could call the accuracy or truthfulness of that memory into question.
Here are some of the things the brain does when forming or recalling memories that could make them, well, faulty to say the least!
- Stores similar memories or learned bits of info in the same area of the brain. Let’s say a part of your brain is labeled “Egypt.” So if you watched a movie about Egypt, the things in that movie may be stored with the things you learned in history class about Egypt. So, the fictional and truthful events related to Egypt might be stored in the same place. Over time they may get mixed together and you’ll have a hard time determining which things came from the movie and which were taught to you as fact.
- Fills in gaps of information to help you make sense of things. Whether the filled in gaps of info are entirely accurate is another story! This is called confabulation.
- Is suggestible before a memory is even stored! This is like being asked if the red haired man was eating lunch – when the person asking made up the fact that the man had red hair. Later, if you were asked to recall this again, you might picture a man with red hair, even though there never was one.
So as you can see, the Mandela effect can be explained several different ways.
Popular Examples of the Mandela Effect
Over time, certain examples of the Mandela effect have become common and popular.
To help illustrate the effect in action, here are a few well known examples:
- Probably the most well known: the Berenstain Bears books. Ask anyone 20 years ago about this popular book series, and they might have told you they were the “Berenstein” bears.
But today, every example shows the name to be “Berenstain.”
- Mirror, Mirror?
In the 1937 Disney movie Snow White and the Seven Dwarves, the Queen says “Mirror, mirror on the wall,” correct?
The actual line is “Magic mirror on the wall…”
- And for one last example, let’s go with Star Wars.
Everyone and their mother by now knows the famous line spoken by Darth Vader: “Luke, I am your father.”
One of the most talked about points in the Star Wars franchise, so we should all remember it correctly, right?
Well, only if you remember the line is actually, “No, I am your father.”
7 Examples of the Mandela Effect in Art
Once I went down the rabbit hole of Mandela effects, I became curious. Surely if there were so many examples of this effect in everyday living, there should be some in art, too?
I went searching and found a bunch of art Mandela effects!
Here are 7 of them:
1. Georgia O’ Keefe/Keeffe
This Mandela effect is based on the spelling of painter Georgia O’Keeffe’s name. Many, many people throughout the years insist her name was spelled “O’Keefe” with just one “F.” An equal amount, it seems, claim it has to be “O’Keeffe.” In fact, people who are believers in the Mandela effect point to various places where her name is spelled one of the two ways as proof that somewhere along the way, her name inexplicably changed.
There’s the street in New Jersey named “Georgia O’Keefe Way,” in a neighborhood where all the roads are named after famous painters.
There’s a road in New Mexico called “Georgia O’Keeffe Road,” with this particular spelling appearing on Google Maps.
So, which is it? Who was the correct Georgia?
It turns out O’Keffee with two “F’s” is the right spelling. O’Keeffe herself was frustrated that nobody spelled her name correctly during her lifetime, as shown in a 1924 letter she wrote lamenting the reviews of her art show all spelling her name O’Keefe.
To me this one feels like the simple problem of a misspelled name, not a giant time slip into another reality where Georgia O’Keefe is angry about everyone spelling her name O’Keeffe. It’s more like spelling Sarah “Sara” or spelling Macintosh “McIntosh.” Both are correct for certain people – just depends on who you are!
I think the bigger issue here is that O’Keeffe insisted her flowers weren’t meant to look like lady bits . . .
2. American Gothic
American Gothic is (I think) one of America’s most recognized artworks. It’s a simple painting of two people in front of a house, but ever since it was created by an artist named Grant Wood in 1930, it’s captured the attention of anyone who viewed it.
For years, people thought they knew who the two people standing in from of an Iowa farmhouse were: a farmer and his wife.
According to the Mandela effect, that’s who it used to be, but now it’s changed.
It’s not a farmer and his wife, both of whom appear to be older people. It’s a farmer and his blond haired daughter!
Those who believe in the Mandela effect say that it was originally a painting of a man and wife standing in from of their home, but somewhere along the way, the painting changed.
Or did it?
To find out the real story, it is helpful to go back to the artist himself.
Grant Wood was a struggling painter when he moved to Iowa and saw the farmhouse that inspired this painting. He got to work right away on his vision, of two stern, hardworking people posed in front of their home. For the woman, he used as a model his sister Nan, and the man was based on his dentist, a man named Byron McKeeby. Both are pictured above with the painting. Wood painted his sister with a slightly longer face to better fit his vision for the painting.
Right from the start the painting was a big hit, and also many people assumed the couple were a man and his wife from the beginning. But the painter himself, Grant Wood, may have caused the confusion himself because he referred to the people in the painting both ways at different times!
In one interview, Wood stated, “‘I finally induced my own maiden sister to pose and had her comb her hair straight down her ears, with a severely plain part in the middle. The next job was to find a man to represent the husband.”
But later, he said the people were a father and daughter, not a husband and wife. It is believed he made this change because his sister Nan (the model for the woman in the painting), didn’t like the idea of being the wife of the dour older farmer!
So what do you think? Is this an example of the Mandela effect?
In my opinion, the widespread idea that the two are a married couple is just the assumption of the viewing public since someone viewing the painting would likely assume the people are a couple – and in fact the painter himself wanted them to be portrayed as that at first — until his sister disapproved.
3. Henry the VIII
Think back to when you were a kid, maybe in school or maybe on TV, when you saw the famous image of King Henry the 8th wearing his kingly regalia and holding a turkey leg to represent his wealth and ability to eat food fit for a king.
Got that image in your mind?
Well, guess what? It doesn’t exist.
This example of the Mandela effect actually got me. I swear I remember a photo (maybe of a painting) when I was in grade school showing the large monarch in his puffy-shouldered outfit and trim beard, holding that big turkey leg like he was walking around a State fair in the South looking for fried Twinkies to go with it.
There are several paintings of Henry VIII, but none show the image we all thought we remembered, of him with his beloved and delicious turkey leg. The paintings that exist show him with regular old items, like a pair of gloves. After learning the turkey leg painting is a myth, I searched the Internet far and wide, but never came across an original version of a painting that would explain this.
So, what the heck is going on? Did this painting vanish? Or did it never exist?
According to most scholars, the painting in question never existed. Over time, tales of King Henry the VIII’s lavish life, his gluttony and his love of beheading people probably combined into the medieval version of drama, tea, tabloid fodder, whatever you want to call it.
The turkey leg myth has spread far and wide, though. You can find dozens of examples in popular culture, from movie portrayals, to comic renderings, to an episode of The Simpsons.
The question for me on this Mandela effect is: If the collective knowledge of Henry the Eighth holding a turkey (or some type of fowl) leg is so widespread, where the HECK did it come from!?? I (and the rest of the Internet) may never know.
4. The Vetruvian Man
Leonardo Da Vinci is one of art history’s superstars, and he shows up in art Mandela effects a couple of times.
This first is his well known anatomical drawing: The Vitruvian Man. In the drawing, a man stands facing the viewer with his legs and arms in a couple different positions.
Here’s the Mandela effect. In the pose where his legs are together, are his feet pointed toward you (the viewer), or are they both pointed to the right? Also, are there three sets of arms and legs, or two?
It seems it makes sense to most people for the feet to be pointed toward us, but they’re not. As you can see from the photo, in the relaxed pose, the legs both point away and to the right, with one foot slightly toward us and the other viewed entirely from the side. There are two sets of arms and two sets of legs. Many people recall there being three sets of each.
According to alternatememories.com, “The Vitruvian man represents ideal body proportions. It’s intended to be a technical illustration, with no other motive than to accurately render the relative limb sizes of the human male.”
This seems like another instance of people seeing something a long time ago (most likely in school) and simply misremembering it. But what do you think?
5. Mona Lisa’s Smile
The Mona Lisa is arguably the most famous painting in the world. The work, done by Leonardo da Vinci (him, again!) around 1517 has made people throughout the ages stop and stare. What is it about this simple portrait of a woman, thought to be Lisa Gherardini, the wife of wealthy Italian nobleman Francesco del Giocondo, that has made it so famous?
Ask anyone and most likely they will tell you it’s the expression on her face. Throughout the centuries, her expression has been a mystery. Is she smiling? Half smiling? Smirking? (How cheeky). Did da Vinci paint her with that expression on purpose?
The biggest constant of the Mona Lisa has been her seeming lack of expression.
But not anymore. According to the Mandela Effect, she now smiles. The corner of her mouth is clearly lifted up. No more ambiguity.
But that’s crazy, right? The whole appeal of the Mona Lisa for hundreds of years has been that her expression is unreadable. It wouldn’t be mysterious if she was clearly smiling.
But many look at the Mona Lisa today and see a smiling woman, not a blank expression.
Experts have given two possible explanations for this.
- Her expression changes slightly based on which angle you view her from. From the side, the viewer sees her smile, but when viewed head on, the smile disappears.
- There were two Mona Lisa’s but if we’ve seen them both, we may get them confused and merge them into one painting. According to The Mona Lisa Foundation, Leonardo da Vinci started painting La Giaconda in 1501 and she was given to the husband of the portrait’s subject to hang in their home. At this time, a second portrait was also started, but was not completed until around 1517. This second painting is the one that now hangs in the Louvre. It was common practice for artists to paint more than one version of a painting at this time, so it wouldn’t have been unusual for da Vinci to have 2 versions of this painting in the works. The earlier work, referred to as the Isleworth Mona Lisa, is in the possession of the Mona Lisa Foundation.
Which conclusion do you draw from this one? Did the Mona Lisa’s expression change over the years? Or is this another case of memory and information colliding in ways that make us “misremember” what we know?
6. Sistine Chapel
The part of the Sistine Chapel depicting the Creation of Adam is the most famous of the Chapel’s frescos, and it is also the one that has its’ very own Mandela Effect.
According to alternatememories.com, this fresco painted in 1512 may have changed over time, according to people’s memories depicting the scene a bit differently. In the version above, the supposed current one, Adam is reaching his hand out to God, who clearly has his hand below Adam’s.
Many people say this can’t be correct. There’s no way Michaelangelo would have painted God lower than Adam. In many people’s memories, God was above Adam and was clearly reaching down toward him.
It does stand to reason that God is often depicted in a higher position in most artwork. And especially on a fresco that would sit on the ceiling of the Vatican, wouldn’t God automatically have the higher physical position? That is the prevailing thought, but clearly the fresco actually shows God’s finger directly across Adam’s, if now even a touch lower.
Maybe it’s always been that way, and we just assumed God would be placed above Adam since he is normally depicted that way? Or . . . if you believe the Mandela Effect, the fresco actually changed at some point in time.
7. The Scream
At some point in your life, you’ve probably seen the famous “Scream” painting by Edvard Munch. It is unsettling to look at since the main figure looks so distraught and strange. The background is a swirl of color and adds to the anxious feeling of the painting.
Which is good, since the artist painted “The Scream” in 1893 after having a very upsetting experience. He was walking with two friends at sunset when the light made the sky and clouds appear “blood red.” It was at that point that he described having the sensation of “an infinite scream passing through nature.” The feeling stuck with him and he wrote in his diary that “it seemed to me that I heard the scream.” (Emphasis is mine).
Many believe the strange red sky Munch and others saw around the time of his unsettling experience was due to the eruption of Mt. Krakatoa, which caused a strange orange color in the sky for months afterward. Others say it could have been due to nacreous clouds that occur around Norway where Munch lived. Either way, the startling colors of the background are the most recognizable feature of the painting after the anxious main figure.
While most people could describe The Scream in a basic way if asked, it’s in the specific details that this Mandela Effect lies. I suspect most people would say if asked to describe this painting from memory that there is a distraught little figure in the front with a multicolored sky in the background.
But answers might differ when asked: What color is the sky? Is anything else in the background? Some people swear the sky is orange or red while others thought it was a swirl of other colors. Some don’t remember any figures in the background. Some remember a boat on the water, some don’t.
Recently, I even found a whole hoard of people who thought The Scream was painted by Vincent Van Gogh and not Edvard Munch!
I believe much of the confusion over the painting itself is due to the fact that Munch actually painted several different versions of the painting from 1893 through 1910. While the basics of each painting are similar, small details do differ from version to version. One is even a lithograph stone.
The most well known version is the 1893 oil, tempera, pastel and crayon on cardboard version that hangs in the National Gallery and Munch Museum in Oslo, Norway. This is the one with the orange and red sky, two figures walking in the back, and little boats on the water.
Again, for this Mandela effect, I am inclined to think it is merely confusion over seeing different versions of the painting over the years.
What do you think? Has “The Scream” changed from how you remember it?
What do you think about the Mandela Effect in Art? I would love to hear your comments below! Strange phenomenon . . . or faulty memories? Have you heard of any other art Mandela effects?
I’d also love it if you would check out another fun blog post while you’re here. I suggest 5 Artists From History Who Will Inspire Your Art !
- 7 Strange Art Mandela Effects - December 9, 2020
- Mixed Media Art Tutorial From Start to Finish: Moon Girl Portrait - September 29, 2020
- Video: My Thoughts on Coronavirus as an Artist - March 19, 2020