Blotmaster general 

Landscapes of the mind and inner gardens are expressions one comes across as readily available metaphors for describing psychic life. And while I am prepared to suggest that the pedigree of the latter goes back to Voltaire’s Candide who is invited in his life to cultiver son jardin, I am given to thinking that the first expression may have an equally lofty and historic origin.

It would appear that we can date the modern revival of the ink blot tradition that started with Leonardo Davinci’s injunction to see art even in the stains on a wall. 


Alexander Cozens, a British landscape painter and author of the 1785 pamphlet, A New Method of Assisting the Invention and Drawing of Landscapes suggested using random ink blots as the point of departure for rendering a landscape.  He used the method extensively and taught it to his students. However annoying to some skeptics in the then art world –this curious business of identifying objects in ink splotches by means of projection was ridiculed–  Cozens was a man of considerable painterly clout and reputation at the time. Around town he was also called the blotmaster general. 

This approach of deliberate accidental landscape painting  presages the graphic work of a Victor Hugo or the free association automatic work of the surrealists: although Cozens has now been largely forgotten. Pop culture enthusiasts will more readily identify a deck of inkblots with Dr. Rorschach’s Freudian investigations than with a lineage of painters, let alone a treatise on landscape painting. 

Imagine : the sort of thing that was common as a game to the father’s of children like Hermann Rorschach, and which would later be popularised in the 1920s with the famous young doctor’s assessment of schizophrenics, had already been something of an art trend back in the 18th century. 

While I can not affirm with the precise historical accuracy of a philologist if the expression landscapes of the mind is a compression of the events I’ve mentioned here, it certainly makes for a delightful vignette.  

You can also read about cartography and inkblots here

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