My art history studies are helping me define both my art form and the experience I want to offer the viewer. Abstract expressionism was all about painting as an “event” performed on the canvas. It was heavily influenced by Psychoanalytic concepts like free association and automatism,or acts performed unconsciously. Jackson Pollock was a master of this type of painting.
There are interesting correlations between Hermann Rorschach and Pollock in that they both started a painting with splotches of paint on a blank surface. Rorschach went on to add the further action of folding the blot to produce a bysymmetrical composition. Pollock performed gestural actions to develop his splotches and specifically focused on drips. Art writers have made similar connections between Pollock’s work and Psychoanalysis ( Google Mellon lecture on modern art and abstract painting by Katie taylor. The link that I have does not work). Pollock’s work has been likened to a Rorschach in that his paintings are pieces of art that allow people to look at an ambiguous stimulus and create their own meaning as to what it might be. So, I am in good company I suppose!
In my work I have repeated Rorschach’s approach to the canvas with some minor modifications. I have also brought events to the canvas in that I have had visual associations/reponses to the blot that I drew on the blots themselves. So the work from time to time has been used as a site of action for me.
What I seek most in terms of the viewer’s response is a moment of reflection. I am not like Rothko in the sense of wanting to create a sublime experience for the viewer. I am not God. I want to help people use what they have to create sublime experiences for themselves IF they so choose to have them. I will not make that choice for them. I am as expressionistic as Rothko in my color usage but I want to create a characteristically psychological space for people to encounter themselves. I want them to reflect on the content in their own minds (direct their visual gaze inward) and to emerge from their contemplation to act with a more informed,responsible externally directed visual gaze. ( I will address the concept of visual gaze more fully at a later time.)
I anticipate that some people will say so why turn to art to do that? Why not just keep working with individual patients in the office? Individual patients come with their own agenda and my task as a professional in the mental health field is to help them with their agenda not mine. Plus, this is about more than a few individuals for me. My ambition is to have a cultural impact and art is a better medium than Psychoanalytic therapy for that goal.
The inkblot is infamous! It suffers a bad reputation in the nondynamic Psychology world where it is considered more art than science. Ironically, in the art world there are those who see it as more Psychology than art. One shared perception has to do with the idea that visually it signifies a test. In Psychology it is attacked for being a poorly constructed test. In art, the viewer’s inability to get past the concept of test or, that I am somehow using the blots to read minds, discourages visual interest such that the poetry and lyricism of the inkblot images are not even processed. So, the question is what to do about this test signifying situation? Do I appropriate Andy Warhol’s strategy and exhibit it like a test of some kind, thereby neutralizing the criticism that it is a test? I have tried to vary the formal aspects of the blots (see phase II images) so as to disassociate them from the test situation but the problem with that is that it sacrifices the associational value of bisymmetry. I have also tried to expand into figurative work but that promises to continue the problems discovered by my phase 2 work which is to say that people, upon focusing on the figurative imagery lose sight of the inkblot imagery.
Tie dye is an artistic process applied to fabric. The fabric is tied and then dye is applied. The dye does not take to the areas of fabric that are tied. It was very popular during the hippie era. Tie dying often has specific “nonambiguous” patterns unlike a Rorschach (which of course is a process applied to paper and designed to produce accidental images). Sophisticated tie dying is not accidental at all and involves complex knowledge of pattern making. However, like the inkblot, it is an everyperson can do it kind of art. They are both humble art forms, which I think has merit.
Here are some links to tie dye definitions and images on the internet.
The image in wikipedia is particularly interesting in its sophistication re pattern making. The patterns are symmetrical like a Rorschach but not ambiguous. I expect though that you can get ambiguous patterns with tie dye and if I ever become interested in applying Rorschach imagery to fabric I may engage the methodology of tie dye.
Historically speaking, one might say…tie dye was part of the encouragement of the hallucinatory experience. Inkblots were used to identify such experiences in the hopes that people who really suffered from them could find antidotes to them.
Finally, tie dye “signifies” something very different from an “inkblot” culturally. Tie dye signifies the hippie error and a time of psychedelic colors and getting high to the point where one’s brain probably looked tie dyed. Inkblots, unfortunately, have changed in their initial signifying function of playful subjective objects to an intimidating test, which some people automatically resist.
The cone image is an ambiguous three dimensional image. It represents an extension of the klecksograph image from two dimensional space to three dimensional space. Recently, I was asked if the image was truly ambiguous because the group of people viewing it at the time had formed a pooled impression of it as a Ku Klux Klan hood. My opinion, based on the way people had previously responded to the cone, was that the image could not be claimed as a KKK hood. I thought that it met the requirements of ambiguity. At the same time, upon reflection, I decided that it couldn’t hurt to get more data so I took the cone to the streets. I asked people to help me with an art project in which I simply wanted to know what the overall shape of the cone object represented to them. Examples of the responses that I received regarding the shape and image (blot) are:
1. A teepee with colors like maybe the Iraquais indians would use.
2. A helmet of some kind
3. A flower like image that looked like female genitalia
4. A triangle
5. A KKK hood (said by only one of about 10 people asked)
6. An inkblot that you see in Psychology. It is beautiful.
7. I don’t know what that is. I’ve been looking at it though. What do you think it is?
8. A nonverbal enactment of the image in which an apparently non-English speaking Asian man took the cone from my hands, perhaps assuming that I was offering it to him instead of asking him to say what it looked like. Anyway, he still answered the question because he put it on his head as if it were a hat. He did not wear it like a KKK hat, upright with the point toward the sky. Instead he wore it with the point extending from the back of his head in such a way as to make it look like a nun’s hat (See image above). He walked for a full two blocks before he delivered it to an Asian fish market and after studying it for several minutes with one of the store employees placed it in the store window for exhibition. When he left the store I recovered it but had a residual fear that I had taken back something that he thought I had given to him.
It was exciting to see my object take on the life of a walking “spectacle.” It came very close to the way that children in Europe used the klecksograph in Rorschach’s day. Way before it signified a “test” it had a very different cultural meaning. Not only did a particular child playfully guess at what it might be, he or she also performed what it might be so that the other children might guess at what was seen. I would love to see the return of this more playful relationship with klecksographic imagery to be enjoyed by children and adults alike.
( This approach to art is so relational and collaborative. The artist collaborates with the imagined viewer in making the art, the viewer collaborates with the artist in viewing the art and producing its contents and art collaborates with psychology in the production and experience of the imagery both as an art form and as a test. )
I made a video of my cone’s encounter with the public and will upload visual and sound images following edits.
In terms of the original question of the ambiguity of this cone-like structure, I am thinking more about the role of the group on the perception of klecksographic stimuli, which I think may alter perceptions of ambiguity. It is one thing for an individual to encounter a blot image and have a personal subjective experience. It is another matter for a group, which by definition is having a relational experience amongst its members . How to think about intersubjective art in this context? I definitely think that great potential exists for group think to influence the perception of my images. People may conform to what seems like the right answer and the group response to my imagery may be more about group process than a specific individual response to artistic imagery. Perhaps there is a way to bring the concept of the group response into this work intentionally.
What is the form and what is the content of my klecksographs (the name I will use to refer to my images in order to create more distance between them and Hermann Rorschach’s series of ten rorschach cards).
Please note that the following may change as a function of changes in my perception of my work.
Form (elements of the design)
Accidental, visually ambiguous imagery
Image should contain gesture and movement possibilities
There should be a determinative manipulation of value such that textural and depth perception stimuli are created.
Achromatic and chromatic color use (sometimes in the same klecksograph)
The image making should be created (performed) bisymmetrically even if further manipulations to the design change the presentation of the image so that it is more asymmetrical. (For me, the jury is still out as to what extent I want my klecksographs to be bisymmetrical. I think the decision should be aesthetic. I experiment with this design element because I have questions about the aesthetics of bisymmetry. On the one hand bisymmetry lends itself to the ease with which the viewer will “see” a visual image, which is why, according to Herman Rorschach it was a necessary part of his work, which he definitely approached with the ideas of artistic composition in mind. Rorschach never said that the two sides of the Rorschach image had to be identical and indeed his are not. One side may have drips that the other side does not. It is impossible to get each drip, line, shape to reproduce itself on the other side of the blot.
I am not interested in making an exact copy of an image. I love the line of bisymmetry itself and the sense of balance it produces in my klecksograph images I tend to play with this line. I do a lot of active dripping, mixing, and paper moving to create exciting visual events in the center of the image.
In terms of weaknesses, bisymmetry lends itself to a kind of stereotyping (noticed by Herman Rorschach) that makes people say, “If you’ve seen one inkblot you’ve seen them all, they all look just alike.” Or, “same bat on all of them, same pelvis each time.” The truth of course is that it is virtually impossible to repeat the accidental drawing content of a blot image. So, the repetition is actually a product of the viewer’s perception which is attributed to the blot. This art form does not repeat in the same way that Warhol used image repetition. Each blot has its own unique identity much like a finger print. I have encountered audience members who want only bisymmetry from my blots and audience members who are very formal in their approach to art who believe bisymmetry is a compostional weakness of blot images. I personally never get tired of looking at the blots and find the going back and forth from one side to the other rather visually compelling (maybe I have found the face of a hypnotist in my blot images!) Whatever…I like it.
Materials include water color, oils, acrylics,neocolor and their media. Paper is the preferred surface. I have used canvas as a surface. My aesthetic preference is for paper because it helps to create a lot of the finer features of the blot drawing; these features involve the way the liquid based paints infuse themselves into the surface of paper creating lovely results.
Other formal aspects include the size of drip/squirt/blob of color. The larger and more overriding a single shape of color the more likely it is that a sense of a whole “thing” will be produced.
The relative balance of color is a formal aspect as is the actual location and amount of the color
Regarding the compositional role of white space, my earlier blots were produced in a way that left white space as the ground (see above image). Currently, my preference is to reduce as much of the white background as possible for my blot images unless I am particularly interested in the use of white space or high value contrast as a formal feature of the blot. Otherwise, it is more aesthetically pleasing to me if the paper is full of color. Also, and this is a much more subtle point, one of my visual responses to the original Rorschach blots is that each image and therfore each perception takes place in an all white context. If the figure -ground relationship is reversed and the white areas become the figure while the black and colored areas become the ground, people get labeled as oppositional. I do not want to signify the idea that gazing at the white areas of the blot is a negative behavior.
I hope to create stimuli characterized by a response to my images in which the potential exists for people to first see one thing and then another. For me this work is ultimately about unfixing the rigid gaze that dominates our perceptions of one another. (This content goal is a direct expression of the ambiguous purpose of the form itself).
Visually speaking, the content is a blot. While describing the work visually as a “blot” or “stain” is accurate in a literal sense and welcome, it is my primary intention to create the following content opportunities:
Representations of objects in the external world, like a human figure or animal or inanimate object like clothing, a cup, a doll, etc.
Nonspecific/abstract images and shapes, e.g., a triangle.
In many respects the content of the Rorschach image is in the mind of the viewer or somewhere in a transitional space between the literal image and the mind of the viewer—an intersubjective space. The content is co-created by my experience creating the image and the viewer’s experience upon perception. It is by definition a collaborative content. I am not interested in controlling the viewer’s perception and suggesting that the blot has only one visual interpretation.
A more philosophical/theoretical question pertains to whether the content as materialized in the mind of the viewer is psychological in the sense of being a memory of something seen before or even a theme from the viewer’s unconscious.
This is cone 1 laying down.
This is the reverse side of cone 1.
I have been working to find new ways to transform them from two dimensional sheets of paper to large three dimensional structures that sit on tables, rest on floors and hang from ceilings.