"Drawings from the Other Side" by Alicia Puglionesi


"Drawings from the Other Side" by Alicia Puglionesi

“Drawings from the other side”
Alicia Puglionesi

Researchers in psychology and the cognitive sciences often look to the production and analysis of drawings to reveal the mental processes of their subjects. This talk presents three episodes that trace the emergence of drawing as an instrumental practice in the study of the mind. Between 1870 and 1950, the drawings of psychological subjects gained currency as a form of scientific evidence – as stable, reproducible signals from a hidden interior.

This story begins with the use of drawings as data in the child-study movement, established by G. Stanley Hall in the 1870s, which aimed to produce an “inventory of the child mind.” It then moves to the telepathic transmission of drawings in psychical research, which adapted Hall's simple drawing activity as a tool for the scientific investigation of telepathy. Psychical researchers hoped to determine whether “impressions from the minds of those about us [can reach] our own minds by channels distinct from those of the senses.” Finally, I link this practice with the development of drawing as an experimental tool for studying neurological impairment. Drawings elicited from neuropsychiatric patients in the mid-twentieth century were understood to reveal particular breakdowns in the internal communication pathways of the brain. When the drawings of brain-injured patients appeared as figures in the scientific literature, they formed a taxonomy of lesions and a topology of communication failure.

Thus, in the twentieth century, the same drawing exercises that once illustrated the universality of concepts and the porous boundaries of the self had become a tool for diagnosing the fragmentation of individual cognitive functions. In exploring these three cases, I link the role of drawing in investigations of the mind to the rhetoric of scientific images: where and how visual information can travel depends on our understanding of the seeing, thinking, and representing self.

  • Debating Visual Knowledge