What we make of the Rorschach test’s blotchy black ink supposedly says a lot about us.
Created in the early 1920s by a surprisingly attractive Swiss man named Hermann Rorschach, the set of 10 cards gained widespread popularity with clinical psychologists by the 1940s, becoming as synonymous with the field as leather sofas and bespectacled white guys in sweater vests. (Yes, the over 90-year-old set of blots is still in use, although there’s a lot of debate over its accuracy.)
Then, in the early 1980s, notorious pop artist Andy Warhol created a series called “Rorschach.” In liquid monochromes, Warhol crafted his own “ink blots” on massive canvases (so that they’d cost more, probably). But he got one crucial thing wrong about his subject matter.
He thought that patients were actually supposed to create ink blots for psychologists to decode — not the other way around. He even thought about paying someone to decode his own blots, but never got around to it.
“I thought that when you went to places like hospitals, they tell you to draw and make the Rorschach tests. I wish I’d known there was a set,” Warhol later explained.
But it was an unintentionally genius move. The paintings put an egalitarian spin on stuffy abstract painting, critic Mia Fineman argues in a post on artnet.com. In line with Warhol’s special ability to blur highbrow and lowbrow, the series asks each viewer to play the psychologist, analyzing each splotch of symmetrically swirling paint.
Critic Rosalind E. Krauss goes a step further, suggesting Warhol’s Rorschach blobs parody abstract art. Rotating the ink blots vertically makes us see a lot more, um, private areas of the human body on the canvas, reminding us “there is no form so ‘innocent’ (or abstract) that it can ever avoid the corruption of a pejorative interpretation,” Krauss wrote in an essay titled “Carnal Knowledge.”
So, go ahead and interpret as you please — is it a pair of antlers? A vagina? A mermaid jumping over a bear? Viewers, it’s all up to you.