The Inkblots: Hermann Rorschach, His Iconic Test, and the Power of Seeing
The man who invented the Rorschach test finally has a biography, and “it surely cannot be long before the biopic,” said Helen Rumbelow in The Times (U.K.). A charming doctor, a sometime artist, and “an unbelievable hottie,” Hermann Rorschach was an innovator throughout his short life, known for bringing a trained monkey on his hospital rounds to help draw out catatonic patients. But the Swiss psychiatrist, who died of a ruptured appendix at 37, will always be best remembered as the creator of a psychodiagnostic test built around 10 inkblots that haven’t changed since he published them in 1921. Despite the storytelling challenge posed by Rorschach’s early death, author Damion Searls “sails past it with style,” said Lorin Stein in ParisReview.org. Searls’ cultural and scientific history of the test proves full of surprises.
Maybe the first surprise is that Rorschach painted the blots himself, said Casey Schwartz in NYMag.com. Others had used inkblots to gauge viewers’ imaginative powers, but Rorschach speculated that a visual test made of appropriately enigmatic images could identify salient differences in the way people perceive the world. “The thing about it was this: The test worked.” Rorschach graded patients’ responses diligently, and his method proved replicable, as patients garnered consistent scores no matter the examiner, and psychiatrists used such scores to identify schizophrenics and manic-depressives. Quickly, the test caught fire among U.S. therapists, and was used during World War II to screen millions of soldiers and private-sector employees.
The Rorschach has since had bad moments, but it’s still widely used, and Searls “seems to have no interest in either confirming or disproving the test’s validity as a diagnostic tool,” said Merve Emre in The New Republic . “To him, the greatest value of the blots is as art objects,” and that’s hardly an unreasonable position. We are, after all, talking about a test that naturally appeals to creative types, and “the science of the Rorschach, to the extant that one can refer to it as a science, is a science of artistic response as the key to personality.”