Trompe l'Oeil (French for "fool or deceive the eye") describes a style of painting that imitates natural appearances so convincingly that the viewer mistakes the objects depicted for the real thing. The National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C. currently has an exhibition called "Deceptions and Illusions, Five Centuries of Trompe l'Oeil Painting." I think it is a show that every student of the magical arts could benefit from attending, not only because of the astonishingly deceptive art to be found there, but to witness the reactions of the other patrons as they are fooled and delighted by the works.
In addition to the exhibit, the National Gallery is offering a catalog of the exhibition for sale in their gift shop. (Deceptions and Illusions $65) This large 400 page book not only contains all of the wonderful images on display, but also has five very enlightening essays by experts on the subject of Trompe l'Oeil that offer real insights about what it is to be fooled and why we enjoy it so much.
From the book, a quote by Clarence Darrow: "The modern manrelishes a lie, but it must not be too big; it must be so small that, although he knows in his inmost soul that it is not true, he can yet make himself believe it is not false. Most of us have cherished a pleasant waking dream, and fondly clung to the sweet delusion while we really knew it was not life."
The exhibition "Deceptions and Illusions" is on view until March 2nd. Admission is free. More info can be found at the website (www.nga.gov).