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John Foster

The Inkblot and Popular Culture


Hermann Rorschach (1884-1922), who is still famous today for his psychoanalytic work using inkblots, was very familiar with a popular 19th century parlor game called Blotto. So much, in fact, that as a schoolboy, young Rorschach was nicknamed “Klecks,” (or, “inkblot”) by his friends — because of his fascination with the game. Players of the game would make up poems or stories based on what they saw from the folded paper inkblots they would create.

Few know that the game evolved from a German doctor and poet by the name of Justinus Kerner (1786-1862), who, in 1857, created a book of poems inspired by the symmetrical shapes he created with inkblots. Kerner called his abstractions Klecksographen, (translated “Blotto-graphs”), and were enhanced by hand to create surreal, anthropomorphic creatures. Though his book was not published until after his death in 1890, it became the spark that influenced not just parlor games but the future career of young Hermann Rorschach.

For the last 60 years or so, the Rorschach test has been used as a psychoanalytical testing tool by many psychologists, and at the same time, discounted by scores of medical professionals who call the test worthless and tantamount to a scam. But one thing is sure — the inkblot has come to personify mystery, interpretive analysis and the science of psychology as a whole.

By the 1960s and 70s, the Rorschach test was commonly known, at least enough to where the idea of it made its way outside the lexicon of psychiatrists and into the mainstream vocabulary. That’s where the symmetrical inkblot became known in popular culture, and in 1984, was “pop” enough to be used by Andy Warhol (1928-1987) in several dozen large paintings.

And yes, the inkblot eventually made its way to advertising, where it continues to be used off and on to this day.

The Inkblot and Popular Culture
Photo of Hermann Rorschach, c. 1910

The Inkblot and Popular Culture
Justinus Kerner, page from his book Klecksographen, published 1890.

The Inkblot and Popular Culture
Justinus Kerner, page from his book Klecksographen, published 1890.


The Inkblot and Popular Culture
Justinus Kerner, page from his book Klecksographen, published 1890.


The Inkblot and Popular Culture
Justinus Kerner, page from his book Klecksographen, published 1890.


The Inkblot and Popular Culture
Justinus Kerner, page from his book Klecksographen, published 1890.


The Inkblot and Popular Culture
Justinus Kerner, page from his book Klecksographen, published 1890.


The Inkblot and Popular Culture
Justinus Kerner, page from his book Klecksographen, published 1890.


The Inkblot and Popular Culture
Justinus Kerner, page from his book Klecksographen, published 1890.


The Inkblot and Popular Culture
Justinus Kerner, page from his book Klecksographen, published 1890.


The Inkblot and Popular Culture
Justinus Kerner, page from his book Klecksographen, published 1890.


The Inkblot and Popular Culture
Andy Warhol - Rorschach, 1984; Synthetic polymer paint on canvas
Collection of the Museum of Modern Art, ' 8 1/4" x 9' 7" (417.2 x 292.1 cm)
© 2013 The Andy Warhol Museum, Pittsburgh; Founding Collection, Contribution The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts, Inc.


The Inkblot and Popular Culture
Andy Warhol - Rorschach, 1984; Synthetic polymer paint on canvas
© 2013 The Andy Warhol Museum, Pittsburgh;


The Inkblot and Popular Culture
Advertisement, c. 1955 for A.G. Becker & Co.

The Inkblot and Popular Culture
Advertisement for American Mutual, c. 1960s

The Inkblot and Popular Culture
Advertisement for The Bell System, c. 1960s

The Inkblot and Popular Culture
Advertisement for Bal de Tete, perfume, c. 1960s.

The Inkblot and Popular Culture
Advertisement for Bal de Tete, perfume, c. 1960s.

The Inkblot and Popular Culture
Head & Shoulders: “INK BLOT” Print Ad by Saatchi & Saatchi for P&G, April 2008

The Inkblot and Popular Culture
Rivet Jeans, 2006, Advertising Agency: JWT India

The Inkblot and Popular Culture
By Daniel J. Richardson, Project 54, Richmond, VA

The Inkblot and Popular Culture
Prime Retail - "Ink Blot" Trade Ad - The "Ink Blot" ad simply calls emphasis to the brand's tag line: The power of passionate shopping. The image used to create the ink blot is one of the client's most cherished properties, Prime Outlets, San Marcos. Sean McGinnis, Art Director, Philadelphia, PA

The Inkblot and Popular Culture
Brand: Karkimedia: Young Lions Finland 2010 Competition; DDB Helsinki, March 2010

The Inkblot and Popular Culture
Swedish fashion designer Sandra Backlundcreated her famous Ink Blot Collection, which won the top prize at the international fashion festival at Hyères, France, in May 2007.

The Inkblot and Popular Culture
Sandra Backlund, dress from her Ink Blot Collection, 2007.



Posted in: Accidental Mysteries

Comment 5  |     |     |   Like 81  |   Tweet 56
Comments [5]
+ Crazy
I love “Crazy” from Gnarls Barkley by the Award-winning design studio Blind.
http://www.blind.com/work/project/gnarls-barkley-crazy/      


Thank you John "!"
Carl W. Smith
04.28.13
02:59

Thank you Carl, for adding this outstanding example to my post. I had not seen it before but this enriches the article immensely.
John Foster
04.28.13
03:15

Interesting article. I've never noticed ink blot ads before but some of those posted use it exceptionally well. The Levis one really catches my admiration.
amiskov
04.28.13
05:19

Very nice, but no discussion of inkblots in popular culture is complete without reference to the late great Bruce Conner, best known for his found-footage films.

His inkblot drawings and collages are complex and often multilayered, with a formality that stands in contrast to the low-tech irony of his wonderful films.

http://www.theinkblotbook.com/468/the-fantastic-inkblots-of-bruce-conner/
CH
04.28.13
08:58

Hah, great post. We used these inkblots for a project. 8 months ago we read an article that creativity is closely entwined with mental illness. So we asked a bunch of creatives to interpret one of the then Rorschach inkblots, and afterwards we held an exhibition which shows all of these works. You can see the result here (https://www.facebook.com/media/set/?set=a.167257753436550.1073741826.118719688290357&type=1) and here (https://www.facebook.com/media/set/?set=a.177949852367340.1073741828.118719688290357&type=1).
sorryklaas
06.10.13
12:23



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