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The following nine drawings were made a half century ago by an artist under the influence of LSD, or acid, during an experiment designed to investigate the psychedelic drug's effects . The unnamed artist was given two 50-microgram doses of LSD, one 65 minutes after the other, and had access to an activity box full of crayons and pencils. The subject of his art was the assisting doctor who administered the drug. Though records of the identity of the principal researcher have been lost, it was probably a University of California-Irvine psychiatrist, Oscar Janiger. Janiger, known for his LSD research, died in 2001.
"I believe the pictures are from an experiment conducted by the psychiatrist Oscar Janiger starting in 1954 and continuing for seven years, during which time he gave LSD to over 100 professional artists and measured its effects on their artistic output and creative ability. Over 250 drawings and paintings were produced," said Andrew Sewell, a physician at Yale School of Medicine who has done research on psychedelic drugs.
During the experiment, the artist reported how he felt the acid was affecting him as he drew each sketch. To add some modern understanding of how LSD affects the brain to the artist's scrawlings, we reached out to Sewell and a few other psychologists for insight on what was probably going on in the artist's head.
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Attending doctor's observations: The first drawing is done 20 minutes after the first dose. Patient chooses to start drawing with charcoal.
Artist's Comment: "Condition normal ... no effect from the drug yet."
Analysis: According to Duncan Blewett and Nick Chwelos, psychiatrists who conducted extensive LSD research in the 1950s, symptoms set in sometime between 15 minutes and two hours after taking the drug, and usually after about half an hour.
"The period of waiting for the drug to have an effect is important, since the psychological set which is established at that time can determine much of what follows," they wrote in 1959 in "The Handbook for the Therapeutic Use of LSD." "Boredom on the part of either the subject or therapist must be avoided. The therapist should also aim at preventing the development of a pattern in which the subject is waiting intently for any change which might be ascribed to the drug. Finally, the therapist should be particularly careful to prevent the build-up of apprehension in the subject."Slide 3 of 19
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Observations: Eighty-five minutes after first dose, 20 minutes after second dose. The patient seems euphoric.Artist's comment: "I can see you clearly, so clearly. This... you... it's all ... I'm having a little trouble controlling this pencil. It seems to want to keep going."
Analysis: Research suggests that "LSD experiences may wildly enhance artists' creative potential without necessarily enhancing the mechanisms needed to harness that creativity toward artistic ends," anthropologist Marlene Dobkin de Rios wrote in her book "LSD, Spirituality and the Creative Process" (Park Street Press, 2003).
In other words, artistic technique doesn't necessarily keep pace with the flow of ideas during an acid trip. But practice can help. "With practice, most of Janinger's artists became adept at working under its influence," said Sewell.Slide 5 of 19
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Observations: Two hours, 30 minutes after first dose, 85 minutes after second dose. The patient appears very focused on the business of drawing.
Artist's comment: "Outlines seem normal, but very vivid everything is changing color. My hand must follow the bold sweep of the lines. I feel as if my consciousness is situated in the part of my body that's now active my hand, my elbow... my tongue."
Analysis: "Janiger believed that LSD favored the prepared mind and that formal artist training would be the best preparation to handle the creative explosion that came from LSD use," Sewell told Life's Little Mysteries. "He ultimately concluded that the art was no better or worse, but it was different. LSD is not a creativity tool, nor does it unlock creativity. Rather, it makes accessible parts of the individual not normally available.
"People who are already artists or craftsmen when they take LSD benefit from it, but uncreative people are not suddenly made so. He also concluded that although LSD could be a powerful instrument to free the artist from conceptual ruts, it did little to facilitate the development of technique."Slide 7 of 19
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