Tuesday, April 22, 2008

The Rorschach Inkblot Tests

The world-renowned Rorschach Inkblots were originally created by Hermann Rorschach in 1921 to assess patients' reflex hallucinations, not their mental stability. After his death it was adapted to gauge an individual's likelihood of having such mental issues as psychosis. There are a total of ten ink blots which are given to the patient in a certain specific order. The individual is then asked to describe what they see in the blots and what particular portions (the color, shape, etc.) cause them to do so. Not only are subjects expected to find some meaning in each of the ten inkblots, but they are "urged to see more than one percept per blot with queries such as 'Anything else?'" The fundamental idea behind this test is that "objective meaning can be extracted from responses to blots of ink that are supposedly meaningless." In other words, the patient, or interpreter, is given the task of interpreting the uninterpretable. The psychologist overseeing this test must in turn interpret the patients answers in order to come to a conclusion about his or her mental state. But, as one writer on this subject queried, "who is to interpret the therapist's interpretation? Another therapist? Then, who will interpret his?" Many other flaws in this method of assessment are continually pointed out by members of the so-called psychological community. One such discrepancy is that "the response 'bra' was considered a 'sex' response by male psychologists but a 'clothing' response by females." Such inconsistencies account for the growing sentiment among psychologists that the Rorschach tests should not be used as the sole basis for a patients' diagnosis, let alone as evidence in custody battles and the like.

In light of Sontag's quote, ink blot tests force the interpreter to reduce the ink blots to solely their content and then to interpret that. In other words, according to Santag, they are "making the work more manageable" or "taming" it. Consider the fact that the viewer is never given the option of saying they see nothing in the blot. Consider what might happen if the patient states that quite frankly they see blots of ink smeared on a piece of card stock. This might be construed by the presiding psychologist as a refusal to fully engage in the procedure. Some might even go so far as to conclude agressive or antisocial tendencies. In fact, it might be said that the ink blots in turn interpret the viewer (with the help of the interpreting psychologist, of course).

Here, the reader of this post should ask himself what makes ink blots fundamentally different from any other piece of abstract art where the viewer is encouraged (whether by the artist or by society and the viewer's peers) to interpret what they see, such as many of those explored in other posts. Should the viewer of a Pollock accept it as paint splattered onto a canvas, or find some deep meaning behind the piece?

According to Sontag, the former is the most appropriate course of action to take with regards to abstract pieces. As haphazard interpretation is viewed as a "refusal to leave a work of art alone," Sontag would say that the viewer of an abstract piece, whether a Pollock or a Rorschach, should be examined only at face value: the paint on the canvas or the ink on the card and nothing more.

If you would like to learn more about the Rorschach inkblot tests and how they are administered, you may want to visit this website:
Please read the initial disclaimer, however, before deciding to read the article.