Sunday, 7 April 2013

Under the Influence

A few weeks ago, I posted about Alex Grey and psychedelic artwork. I want to explore this field further and share some more related pieces. First a little about the psychedelic art movement...

Following the serendipitous discovery of the psychedelic properties of lysergic acid diethylamide (LSD) by Albert Hofmann in 1943, a significant increase in the use and study of psychedelics took place. One body of research, conducted by psychiatrist Oscar Janiger in Los Angeles, examined the effects of LSD on over 900 volunteers. This group represented a cross-section of the general population and ranged from college students and housewives to doctors and engineers - even priests, rabbis, and movie stars! A key feature of Janiger's research was to examine the psychedelic effects in more comfortable and natural environments, as opposed to the artificial hospital settings commonly used.

A subset of this study looked at professional artists. This included comparing works done by the same artists both while sober and while under the influence of LSD (one such example can be seen at the end of this article). Many participants in Janiger's study reported believing their creative abilities were enhanced and that their art had greater aesthetic value, however, other artists and researchers have found LSD to impair thought and technical ability. A significant proportion completely changed their artistic style (e.g. to expressionist or abstract styles).

Art historian Carl Hertel analysed 250 of the images produced from this study in 1971, comparing those created while under the influence to the baseline images. He found that the LSD-inspired artworks were neither superior nor inferior to the artists' other works. However, he felt the pieces became "more abstract, symbolic, brighter, more emotional and aesthetically adventuresome, and non-representational, and they tended to use all available space on the canvas."

For better or worse, altered states of consciousness can dramatically alter our perceptions of reality, including ourselves. It's understandable, thus, that it will also alter the creative and artistic processes. The research in this field is fascinating and I highly recommend LSD, Spirituality, and the Creative Process, a book which explains and analyses Janiger's work, including several examples of the artwork produced.

Reality is Ripping at the Seams

Mind Bender


Finding My Way

There are things known and there are things unknown,
and in between are the doors of perception.

Aldous Huxley 

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