3141 Chestnut St, Drexel University, Philadelphia, PA 19104
215-895-1977  |  zillmer@drexel.edu

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I. Inkblots

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III. Military Psychology

IV. Online Photo Gallery

The Art and Science of Inkblots

Perlstein Gallery
Drexel University
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, USA

January-February, 2008

XIX International Congress of Rorschach & Projective Methods
Katholieke Universiteit Leuven
Leuven, Belgium

July 22-25, 2008

Q & A about the Inkblot Exhibit with Dr. Zillmer

How did the show come about? Where did you get the idea?
I met John Langdon when he was doing a talk on Angels and Demons/da Vinci Code about three years ago. As part of the talk he showed inkblots he designed, because of his interest in ambiguity and symmetry. I am a clinical psychologist and psychology professor who studies the responses to inkblots. But I also am interested in Rorschach history and the inkblot's place in culture and art. Anyway, John was busy after his very successful presentation so I mailed him an e-mail: "if you show me your inkblots I will show you mine." A week later he showed up in my office "you do inkblots?"

We started working together on some projects with the culmination being a talk on inkblot art and science at last year's annual meeting of the Society of Personality Assessment. The talk was so much fun and it was well received that we thought an exhibit would be worth doing in terms of actually showing the inkblots "in vivo" rather than talking about them. I was familiar with inkblot art and have visited the Dali museum in Tampa, which features an inkblot by the Spanish artist. Andy Warhol also once had an inkblot exhibit, so the company we were in seemed good and we thought this could be an interesting, intriguing and creative idea. We started working on the concept and if the energy that John and I had for this collaboration is any indication of its success, it should be very interesting.

This is a unique combination of hard science and artistic expression. Have either of you worked like this before?
Yes, I have always branched out in my psychology work. I find that cross-disciplinary work is the most interesting. I have worked previously with an art magazine called Cabinet Magazine on the Rorschach inkblot procedure (Zillmer, E.A. (2001, Winter). Bats and Dancing Bears. An Interview with Eric Zillmer. Cabinet Magazine, Issue 5, Winter 2001. New York City: Immaterial Incorporated.)

But still, this collaboration with John Langdon is different and I believe very special for two reasons: first, the inkblot has become such a cultural icon, perhaps psychology's most popular and controversial product, that almost everyone has heard about it one way or another. The second reason is related to my collaborator John Langdon, whose work is fascinating, interesting and very compelling, not only to the layperson and the art community, but also to the psychological community. John's work has many psychological facets, his understanding of symmetry and ambiguity is practical as well as theoretical, and thus, the borders of what is art and what is science becomes blurred.

How are the clinical inkblots presented in the exhibition?
Inkblot responses themselves are not artistic. How does one integrate them into an art exhibit? We discussed this for some time and together with the considerable assistance from curator Ephraim Russell, we decided not to overwhelm the audience, but only show one response per card for a total of ten responses. The inkblot technique is a very complicated procedure and one could not do justice to it in the space and time that is provided. Yet, providing the audience with, what turns out to be my 10 most favorite responses, including the identity and background of the "owner" of that response, together with the inkblot, may allow the viewer to judge for themselves. For example, we start off the "scientific" part of the exhibit with the response to Card 1 "A smiley face. Got badly shot. Four holes," which was given to me by a 16-year old spree killer who was awaiting trial. The test situation forces the subject to mentally convert the inkblot into something that it is not. The inkblot procedure is not an X-ray of the mind or the soul as is sometimes thought, but it is a representation of the psychology of the person. For example, in this response the viewer may take away the "damaged" perception of the response "badly shot" and the emotional confusion of the killer, the fact that there may have been something funny about being shot. But in general an interpretation is not offered and the viewer is invited to make his or her own interpretation.