JF Ptak Science Books Post 1963
Sometime we see a Cloud that's dragonish,
A Vapour sometime like a Bear, or Lion,
A tower'd citadel, a pendant Rock,
A forked Mountain, or Promontory,
With Trees upon't, that nod unto the World
And mock our Eyes with Air.--Anthony and Cleopatra (Act IV Scene II) from the title page of Cozens' A New Method..., 1785
This blog maintains a longish thread on the History of Dots, but no where in there yet is any appreciation or discussion of the blot (the "blot" being "the unhappy and rejected love of the Dot" not according to Ambrose Bierce).
Cloud-writing is difficult work, mostly because it involves making the invisible visible in an imaginary landscape. This is I think exactly what Alexander Cozens (1717-1786) had in mind when he wrote about using ink blots for inspiration in preparing a landscape, writing about it in his A New Method of assisting the Invention in Drawing Original Compositions of Landscape. In 1785. He had the idea in mind and was using it in lessons for decades before that, but the work only found its way into print at the end of the century, a year before his death--and more than a century before such thoughts began to enter the early archaeology of the social meme. In a way he wrote about implementing a sort of simple calculus of discovery, of seeing the impression of possibilities in, well, anything, but particularly in the memory and sensation of forms.
These weren't literally what we would think of today as ink blots--they were suggestive forms that sort of looked like blots from which more determined and refined images could be made. He suggested that landscapes be generated as instinctively as possible, with blots being used to arouse memory and curiosity and to be incorporated into or suggestive of natural forms in constructing the landscape. [Although the word "blot" reaches back into the 14th century according to the OED, the version that Cozens had in mind I think was the verb "blot", which appears around 1440, and which means "to spot or stain with ink or other discolouring liquid or matter; to blur" (emphasis mine). It seems to me that the blot art that Cozens had in mind was both a blurring and a refining method, something that could release the artist and allow the mind to roam freely around the blot's inspiration and the artist's landscape memory. as Simon Schama says about the blot in Landscape and Memory, "there blots were deliberately random impressions meant to express, rather than to slavishly outline, the natural heaping of rock forms. The impulsiveness and spontaneity of their production served to reinforce the new idea...that mountains were dynamic, even turbulent things..." (page 461).]
Cozens was working on imagination and discovery, a way to make an improvisation in art, a riff on whatever the ink blot might suggest to the viewer. On page seven of his pamphlet he describes The Blot:
‘A true blot is an assemblage of dark shapes or masses made with ink upon a piece of paper, and likewise of light ones produced by the paper being left blank. All the shapes are rude and unmeaning, as they are formed with the swiftest hand. But at the same time there appears a general disposition of these masses, producing one comprehensive form, which may be conceived and purposedly intended before the blot is begun. This general form will exhibit some kind of subject, and this is all that should be done designedly’ (p.7, from The Tate description),
- [An example of Cozens' work with the blot, source: the Tate http://www.tate.org.uk/art/artworks/cozens-plate-11-t03179]
In a way it Cozens reminds me of Leonardo's cracks and shadows:
"...if you look upon an old wall covered with dirt, or the odd appearance of some streaked stones, you may discover several things like landscapes, battles, clouds, uncommon attitudes, humerous faces, draperies, &c. Out of this confused mass of objects, the mind will be furnished with abundance of designs and subjects perfectly new".--Leonardo Treatise on Painting (in the English translation published in 1721), pp 5-6
Another example from the Metropolitan Museum of Art of Cozens' "A Blot-Lake with Boat, Surrounded by Trees":
Cozens worked for insight, for "the art of seeing properly", for surprise, the discovery of forms. IT was an extraordinary work, especially given its time, ten and more decades and more away from the work of Redon and ernst and the rest of the suggestive painters, and even seven decades out from Courbet. It was slightly closer in time to the quizzical work of Justinus Kerner, whose Kleksographien of 1890 used ink blots in a parlor-game fashion for his readers to fashion stories and narratives with. (A full text with illustrations of the 1890 edition of the work is found here, in the digital collections of the University of Heidelberg).
An example of Kerner's work:
And well in advance of Hermann Rorschach's 1921 book Psychodiagnostik, which employed the use of ink blots to help him diagnose schizophrenia, the predictive and diagnostic aspect of the idea coming in 1939, not as a result of Rorschach's doing).
What these blots might all have in common was their pre-modern earliness. their anticipation of something that would become a standard framework in the decades--or centuries--to come.