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Russian Psychoanalytic Art Mystery
December 3, 2006 2:49 AM   Subscribe

"This was painted by a person with a rare and severe mental disorder. He was constantly seeing his own fantasies all around him. He also had a certain phobia..." (via Digg). The image is an imperfect reproduction of a particular postcard dated 1972. A blogger (in Russian) claims his psychiatry professor found one aspect of this eerie painting that reveals the patient's disorder. Allegedly, only one of his students in the past 15 years has figured it out. The psychoanalytic mystery has piqued the interest (in Russian) of the online community. A number of supplemental hints from the professor and thousands of guesses later, the case remains unsolved. Skeptics have already decried the mystery as a traffic-boosting hoax, but a few signs still point to its authenticity. Most notably, the artist's reproduction of another classic painting contains the following note: "transferred in 1990 from Moscow mental hospital."
posted by themadjuggler (113 comments total) 21 users marked this as a favorite

 
Comparisons have been made to Jean-François Millet's L'angelus, a painting which "hid" a coffin between the husband and wife discovered by Salvador Dali (after an x-ray) when he sensed a feeling of anguish between them, and, of course, The Da Vinci Code.

Naturally I'm taking this mystery with a huge grain of salt, as it's been built up in such an exaggerated way. Nevertheless, scrutinizing and dissecting this painting has really freaked me out. In any case, the ensuing debate offers a glimpse into the best and worst of amateur artistic/psychiatric interpretation.
posted by themadjuggler at 3:05 AM on December 3, 2006


I'd say it's cortical blindness and/or Unilateral Neglect mixed in with a bit of anosognosia manifested as blindsight.

This painting is a copy of the original, however the difference is that, all of the content right from the center is missing in the copy. The copy only contains the same information from the left hand side of the painging but seen from another angle.

Compared to the original painting, there is "nothing" on the right hand side of the copy.

this person literally cannot conceive of anything on the right hand side of his perspective. were you to ask him to draw a clock, you would probably get only the numbers 6,7,8,9,10,11, 12, either all around the circle of the clock or trailing off at 6 and 12. the story would be much the same if you asked him to draw an upside down clock, however, the numbers would be 12,1,2,3,4,5,6.

This person knows there is another "half" of the painting, but cannot conceive of it, and so "fills in" the right hand side with the left hand side, but from a new perspective.

I'd imagine that this person, were they male, would only shave the left hand side of his face. I'd also wager that out of a pair of playing cards, this person would only be able to identify the left hand one, and would either fabricate the suit and number of the right hand card, or claim that the right hand card was the same card as the left hand card. However, they would be adamant about the correctness of their identification of both cards.

Anosognosia is a condition where you refuse to believe that you have a disorder or handicap, and attempt to compensate with either behaviors or rationales. I.E. a paralyzed person may claim that they are in a full body caste, and that is what is preventing them from being able to move.

Though, I could be completely wrong.
posted by Freen at 3:12 AM on December 3, 2006 [1 favorite]


All the children on the sleighs are staring quietly at the painter, while the sleighs seem to be carrying on at full speed.

I find that absolutely horrifying.
posted by nervousfritz at 3:21 AM on December 3, 2006 [1 favorite]


Wait, no, I think I am completely wrong.

Made a lot more sense just a second ago, particularly with the images from the initial digg link, as they had a strange line down the middle, which was apparently an artifact of the scanning process...

Bah. That'll teach me to comment drunk at 6 in the morning.
posted by Freen at 3:22 AM on December 3, 2006


I'm guessing it's the fear of being analyzed by incompetent armchair psychologists.
posted by ikalliom at 3:24 AM on December 3, 2006


I'm guessing it's the fear of being analyzed by incompetent armchair psychologists.

Personally, I'm more worried about being analysed by incompetent professional psychologists.
posted by PeterMcDermott at 3:29 AM on December 3, 2006


“what would you hear if you were inside the painting”?

Boards of Canada.
posted by limon at 4:11 AM on December 3, 2006 [2 favorites]


The patient has an irrational fear of Thomas Kinkade, yes?
posted by scruss at 4:12 AM on December 3, 2006


a horse bit him and he got rabies.
posted by dogwalker at 4:30 AM on December 3, 2006


He may be afraid to communicate.

He left out the telephone lines crossing the original...

Meh, I'll just wait for someone to tell me.
posted by knapah at 4:40 AM on December 3, 2006


Perhaps agoraphobia? In both paintings, the wider-open spaces have been filled in or cropped out. I noticed this when I compared the amount of sky visible in the copies versus the originals. Its liek the artist panned down and zoomed in on both scenes.
posted by Cranialtorque at 4:41 AM on December 3, 2006


I saw this yesterday and spent more time on it than I should have.

The professor said:

1. Not agoraphobia, but close.
2. It has something to do with the perspective of the painter.
3. It has nothing to do with any detail in particular. (Look at the big picture)
4. The keywords are water and air.

so yeah.....
posted by pg at 4:57 AM on December 3, 2006


O Freen, I dug the analysis. Bits askew, but there's definitely something there. The cottages are now huge, towering, looming, the sleighs small, and the obviously ceramic horses splay multiple legs. The children are sitting quietly, lined up behind the 'conductor', and facing the presence.... and.......eh, going to bed.....
posted by toma at 5:10 AM on December 3, 2006


I don't care about this postcard reproduction. Now I am looking at all my doodles to try to figure out what the hell is wrong with me.

I keep thinking the clue lies in the repeated appearances of a naked Ernest Borgnine floating across the page and winking at me. He holds what appears to be a pastry by its tail, a drip of filling curls down his hairy forearm. Any thoughts? On a related note, is it bad practice for me to include this image in business correspondence? What if the client is Japanese?
posted by kingfisher, his musclebound cat at 5:42 AM on December 3, 2006 [4 favorites]


Look at the background--you're looking at three different views of the same buildings! Each is from the perspective of a different sleigh. Is anyone else seeing this?
posted by ghastlyfop at 5:57 AM on December 3, 2006 [1 favorite]


I don't get it. Looks like a couple of links to some cool looking paintings. Article is fubar so maybe that would tell me more.
posted by evilelvis at 5:59 AM on December 3, 2006


Seriously, now. Even if this is a real test, it is quite possible the professor is wrong, and that nothing in the image is necessarily an indicator of a specific disorder. It might correlate to the disorder, but I cannot image it being absolute evidence.

Nonetheless.

1. The artist is mediocre and is limited in what he can recreate and depict. We should probably assume that imagery that is related to a lack of talent, such as the passive poses of most of the figures, is not evidence of madness, but understandable aesthetic caution.

2. The threes are strange, but these appear in the original and are not excessively emphasized.

3. Something about the image makes it seem impossible to go indoors. A door sits behind the two women and the carriage, but it is heavily blackened. This sense of enforced exile is carried to the viewer a bit: the horses in the copy block off the homes, the children stare as if guarding, no paths lead to the homes but instead intercede, etc.

I would guess it is either of crippling fear of being locked out of a house, or its opposite, fear of being in a home.
posted by kingfisher, his musclebound cat at 6:07 AM on December 3, 2006 [1 favorite]


Note that the professor has said to think of water and air, and what seems to be a better clue, to imagine what you would see if you removed all the objects from the scene.
posted by Mikey-San at 6:34 AM on December 3, 2006


Snow? Teehehe.
posted by Hildegarde at 6:38 AM on December 3, 2006


To me its is clearer in the second painting, but in both the perspective is from a high up ledge, possibly after just having stepped off the edge. In the first it is a steep hill, in the second, a wave that is about to crash.
posted by Suparnova at 6:57 AM on December 3, 2006


the Da Vinci Code is the new Rorschach
posted by matteo at 7:02 AM on December 3, 2006


You'd see snow, and tracks in the snow.
posted by emelenjr at 7:09 AM on December 3, 2006


Scruss, no fear of Thomas Kincade is irrational.
posted by thekilgore at 7:31 AM on December 3, 2006


He has a fear of the daytime (perhaps the Sun itself?). The activities in the painting are usually ones we see happening in the day not at night. He has replaced the sun with himself and the children are looking at him with the sad knowledge that he is not the real thing. The adults are oblivious.
posted by hojoki at 8:05 AM on December 3, 2006


I think it's a make believe mystery, everything said so far points to an urban legend.

First, everybody is dumber than the psychiatry professor who first discovered it because nobody else has in 15 years. It's possible but unlikely.

Second, it's presented in a university lecture as a challenge but everybody is still mystified by it. If the professor pulled out the same question every year, or every 5 years or whatever it'd become part of the history around the course and as a result somebody would be well enough connected with a former student to find the answer that way.

Third if this is really true than some reasonable aptitude with a search engine should turn up the answer. Psychology, whether it's a true science or not, uses the trappings of science and so an example like this would be published. It'd appear in textbooks, it would be all over the web because this is the type of fact that quickly becomes an old chestnut and the web is positively packed with that kind of information.
posted by substrate at 8:21 AM on December 3, 2006


Look at the background--you're looking at three different views of the same buildings! Each is from the perspective of a different sleigh. Is anyone else seeing this?

Good eye ghastlyfop, but I don't think so. The 2 leftmost red buildings are similar, but not identical. One has 2 windows on the 2nd floor, and the next has a balcony. The right-most building is actually 2 buildings.

I love these kinds of mysteries, but it seems there is no way to know if we are right, no?

Also, I wonder if "remove all objects" mean leave the people and horses?
posted by The Deej at 8:41 AM on December 3, 2006


Depersonalization disorder - the scene in the reproduction is viewed from a higher angle than in the original, an angle that makes it less likely the viewer could be a person watching.

Or not.
posted by thirteenkiller at 8:42 AM on December 3, 2006


Oh, and thanks for posting this themadjuggler, even though it may lead to my own psychosis.
posted by The Deej at 8:43 AM on December 3, 2006


I think I would have a better chance at finding small details missing if they had provided a larger version of the image to inspect.

But yeah, the buildings duplicated at a different angle caught my eye.
posted by quin at 8:49 AM on December 3, 2006


Random thoughts:

Symmetry of the horses and sleighs:
-The 2 outer sets of horses each have a horse with a bent leg, the middle set has none.
-The 2 outer sleigh drivers have whips in the air, the middle has none.
-The middle riders are trailing a blanket or scarf (which looks like fire) while the outer 2 have none. In the original postcard, the trailing blanket is on the outermost sleigh.

Other thoughts:
-The path the sleighs seem to come from seems to be impossible to navigate without wiping out. Follow the marks in the snow. The original postcard shows a similar hill, but there are skiers thers, and the implied path of the horses is not down that hill. In the copy, it looks like the horses cam down the ski hill and ha to make a hard left. (Not worded well, but that's the best I can do.)

-Removing the objects (but not the people or horses) leaves us with 3 sets of 3 people sitting on the snow; 3 individuals standing in front of the them, and 3 sets of horses. Also, 2 skiers; 3 people in front of the left yellow building; 2 people, and a baby with no stroller in front of the red building; 2 people on the right. Stars in the sky... snow... snow tracks.

And that means.... squat!

Also, I LOVE hojoki's idea that the painter is the sun. I don't think it has anything to do with the puzzle, since the original postcard is at night as well. But I love that kind of thinking.
posted by The Deej at 9:00 AM on December 3, 2006


Also, I LOVE hojoki's idea that the painter is the sun.

For a second, I wondered if the painter was in a tree, hanging by his neck. :(
posted by Mikey-San at 9:02 AM on December 3, 2006


(not that there are any real clues for that, other than being elevated and having people staring at him)
posted by Mikey-San at 9:03 AM on December 3, 2006


I think this is revenge against me for posting that lame Randi Impossible Watch "puzzle." I repent.
posted by The Deej at 9:04 AM on December 3, 2006


Oooo Mikey-San that is very interesting. Looking at a freshly hung suicide on a sleigh ride! But I think this tells us more about you than the about the painter! Of course, that goes for all of us! :)

I need another Percoset.
posted by The Deej at 9:08 AM on December 3, 2006


But I think this tells us more about you than the about the painter!

Perhaps it just proves that the TAT is full of shit.
posted by Mikey-San at 9:12 AM on December 3, 2006


good post
posted by Malachi Constant at 9:21 AM on December 3, 2006


I have to say I don't think much of a psychology professor who believes an exercise like this is, in some way, meaningful or significant.

- The professor had knowledge of the painter's particular diagnosis.
- With that knowledge, he found some element of the painting that seemed to support this conclusion.
- He asked his students to deduce the painter's diagnosis from the painting,
- And in 15 years of trying, they couldn't. Except for some person who, by probability alone, was bound to guess it.

I'd say it's pretty clear this painting is _not_ any useful indicator of the painter's condition. If the answer can only be reached with foreknowledge or lucky guessing, it has no use in the world of science.

It's great for art history though; there are lots of fascinating examples of artists' psychoses manifesting themselves in their work. And it's a terrific insight into how the brain works, akin to the sketches of Oliver Sacks' patients who had unique neurological disorders. But as a diagnosis tool, it's about as useful as trying to guess a number the professor is thinking of.
posted by ad_hominem at 9:28 AM on December 3, 2006 [1 favorite]


Great. I'm blowing a perfectly nice Sunday playing Where's Wacko?
posted by hal9k at 9:50 AM on December 3, 2006 [2 favorites]


Guessing its fear of sound? A given hint was what would the scene sound like? Snow is associated with silence. Without the foreground objects, there is silence...with them, there is imiminent crack of whip, and all horses just about to crunch the snow, and people in distance meeting. The other painting also has the imminent fall of great waves. Could be fear of voices as well, as we would hear cries from sledders in first painting, painful cries from people drowning in other, which in the latter instance would be schizophrenia.
posted by uni verse at 10:04 AM on December 3, 2006


Cymophobia , fear of waves or wave like motions.

maybe if you remove all the objects from the painting except the people in the forground maybe the snow bank looks like a looming wave cresting over their helpless heads. compare that idea with his other reproduction.
posted by nola at 10:24 AM on December 3, 2006


the sence of something looming.

but i'm still not sure if what we are looking for is a phobia or some other symtomatic term.

do we know he is afraid of something , or are there simply signs in the painting of his mental state?
posted by nola at 10:27 AM on December 3, 2006


One comment in this thread was posted by a person with a rare and severe mental disorder. The commenter was constantly seeing their own fantasies all around him. The commenter also had a certain phobia. One aspect of this eerie comment reveals the patient's disorder. Can you solve the mystery?
posted by agropyron at 10:29 AM on December 3, 2006 [5 favorites]


Hint: It's not kingfisher.
posted by agropyron at 10:35 AM on December 3, 2006


It's so mysterious!
posted by Hildegarde at 10:40 AM on December 3, 2006


One comment in this thread was posted by a person with a rare and severe mental disorder

Only one?
posted by saraswati at 10:49 AM on December 3, 2006


Perhaps he has a fear of falling, and he is a snowflake?

Although the idea that he has a fear of being buried or a fear of large, looming objects makes sense too. The angle the picture is painted at makes it look sort of like the world is curled up and falling on him.
posted by tehloki at 11:12 AM on December 3, 2006


Fear of electricity. He took down the power lines.
posted by aliasless at 11:34 AM on December 3, 2006


The reproduction has a closer view of the houses. Yet the sledders are farther away. It's a compressed perspective, like with a telephoto lens. Also, the viewer is elevated, as if seeing the scene from a cliff.

"don't look for small details, look at the whole; if you figure out what the phobia was, you've got the answer; ask yourself what could have preceded this scene; think of what the place would look like with all the objects removed" and ask what you would hear if you were in the scene.

Doesn't the set of sled tracks look like currents in water? The sleds appear to be sinking. With all the objects removed, it could be a rushing river, going around islets where the houses are. What you would hear is the roar of water. It could have been preceded by a dam breaking.
posted by jam_pony at 11:48 AM on December 3, 2006


even if this is a hoax, i still want some kind of answer. now.
posted by timory at 11:54 AM on December 3, 2006


The artist is expressing his mortal fear of skiing Taos.
posted by Arcaz Ino at 11:57 AM on December 3, 2006


Man. The perfesser could have a field day with some of these paintings.
posted by namespan at 12:05 PM on December 3, 2006 [1 favorite]


meybe the painter thinks he is a wolf?
posted by zeteo at 12:09 PM on December 3, 2006


In sufficiently Freudian.

All the trees are penises! Penises penises penises. Especially the ones on the right, growing from A CLEFT FULL OF BUSHES. And what are those guys doing over there? The ones on the right, dressed in polar opposite red and green?

They might slide into the cleft. And then a tree fall and crush them!

:)
posted by billb at 12:10 PM on December 3, 2006


Someone who said he'd had that professor answered on LJ (in Russian), and a native Russian speaker on Something Awful translated it:
In this painting the author associated himself with a snowman. I don't remember everything, but the main clues were the "cold" color gamut of the whole picture and the absence of a bonfire (it's a tradition in Russia to make a bonfire on масленица/Marzanna), burning branches and reflections on surrounding objects. Thus the author completely disposed the painting from the original theme of winter coming to an end and the accompanying Marzanna celebration. In addition to this, he experienced strong nervous tension which is also the case of all the characters in the painting and also in his attempts to adjust all the objects and details. Even more: the characters look as if they aren't breathing - it's a projection of the world outlook of an inanimate snowman.
It's also been suggested that this is a psych experiment with us as its subject -- if you pose a brainteaser and keep putting off answering it, will people still be interested?

Answer: Yes -- pretty darn interested, considering they found out the professor's phone number, and are apparently calling and asking to get the answer immediately.
posted by booksandlibretti at 12:15 PM on December 3, 2006


The solution is he thinks he's a snowman? That's pretty lame.
Also, how can you tell from the painting someone looks to be not breathing?
This is a worthless as a Rorschach. Reading this post did give me the heebie-jeebies though.
posted by Arthur "Two Sheds" Jackson at 12:24 PM on December 3, 2006


yeah , thats very weak.
posted by nola at 12:34 PM on December 3, 2006


PLEASE do not let "snowman" be the answer!!! O please o please o please...
posted by The Deej at 12:40 PM on December 3, 2006


Here goes:

-The perspective appears to be hovering above the scene, thus the air clue. Separated and removed from the world of "everyday" people making attempts at having fun. He's witnessing it all, but not participating.

-The interior of the houses are not illumed by the excessively bright light. The outside world is perceptible, while the routines and comforts of the human world are ambiguous and undifferentiated.

-The expressionless stare of the sleigh riders seems to point to a difficulty in understanding emotions as rendered through facial expressions. The flat affect they portray is the baseline for the artist in daily life. It is the easiest to convey.

- The horses and sleighs appear to float above the snow. The focus of the action is dislocated from its medium, perhaps indicative of a difficulty in comprehending cause/effect relationships.

-The numerical significance of the horses, riders and others out in the snow may represent a desire for organization which exceeds the nature of daily life.

So, my cheap guess is that the artist is on the Autistic Spectrum, perhaps Aspberger's Syndrome. This is due to the inability to perceive and process emotion, intent and the routines of most social interactions. Those with Aspberger's also can be meticulous in ordering things by shape, color or number. The artist also appears to exhibit strong disassociative qualities, so perhaps there is something like Disassociative Identity Disorder present. At the very least, there's some kind of thought disorder present. The scene seems to be eerily silent, so I also think he is deaf, though this is an even cheaper hunch than the above.

It's doubtful that this professor will emerge with the answer, so who the hell knows?

My mother is an Art Therapist and she would have a ball with this.
posted by moonbird at 12:40 PM on December 3, 2006


Oh holy shit. A lot can happen in a thread while you're madly over-analyzing.

/melts.
posted by moonbird at 12:43 PM on December 3, 2006


booksandlibretti:, this doesn't explain what is the mental disorder. Also if true its an absurd guessing game: so the guesser is supposed to be able to notice that there is no fire, and that the figures aren't breathing? There is no fire on the postcard! And there is no way to paint the absence of breathing.
posted by uni verse at 12:44 PM on December 3, 2006


I just developed a phobia of Russian Psychoanalytic art, where do I go to get it treated?
posted by pleeker at 12:45 PM on December 3, 2006 [1 favorite]


In the digg thread it was said that the professor said that he was unaware of the postcard when he first saw the painting and found in it signs of the painter's condition(s).
posted by jam_pony at 12:48 PM on December 3, 2006


moonbird: don't worry - your answer is infinitely better than 'he's a snowman'. (!)
posted by uni verse at 12:48 PM on December 3, 2006


The original postcard doesn't have a bonfire either. I think that the professor who originally discovered this was practicing 20/20 hindsight while reading too much into the painting. The original painting didn't show the horses or people breathing either, so that isn't a fair diagnostic tool either.

Maybe the artists mental state was reflected in the painting, just like you often tell somebody is tenser than normal by their speech or hand-writing, but I don't think you can make a diagnosis or even use it as supporting evidence of a diagnosis.

I don't know how to phrase this correctly, but I see an immature artist more than anything else. He's compressed the composition of the original postcard as well as simplified it. He drew the background in too large which forced him to wedge in the horses closer to the features in the land scape. In drawing the horses they're placed like a pattern all in a row, like a photo-finish at the races rather than staggered as in the original.
posted by substrate at 12:49 PM on December 3, 2006


erm, or even, of Russian Psychoanalytic Art Mysteries...
(now I'm not sure if the psychoanalytic part refers to the art, or to the mystery, and that uncertainty in itself is probably a symptom of something very serious)

I heard Russian doctors play these games with liver damage patients too. They make them paint copies of postcards and then amuse themselves trying to guess which brand of vodka caused the patient's unfortunate condition.
posted by pleeker at 12:51 PM on December 3, 2006 [1 favorite]


The prof said it's something about the painting as a whole, and not details, and to consider it with "objects removed". So I guess this would shoot down based on the odd faces of the riders, similarity of houses, or other such things.

Imagine the scene with no sleds, people, or buildings, but with the natural features. And note that long, deepening depression on the right, with a clump of shrubbery at its upper end. An anatomical landscape? View of Mt. Venus? Not to go all Freudian on you.

However, this would not answer the "what would you hear" clue.
posted by jam_pony at 12:59 PM on December 3, 2006


I'm going to go with the theory that this Russian professor had no idea that this painting was a reproduction of the postcard, and subesenquently sent a very sane yet very shitty artist to a mental institution. While the original postcard artist is left free to murder innocent children under the guise of a bloodthirsty snowman a la Jack Frost.

Way to fuck that one up, Professor.
posted by Stan Chin at 1:07 PM on December 3, 2006 [2 favorites]


I call shenanigans on this thread.
posted by gallois at 1:16 PM on December 3, 2006


Hint: It's not kingfisher.

It is if I think it is.
posted by kingfisher, his musclebound cat at 1:22 PM on December 3, 2006


Remember that answer was written by a guy claiming to be a former student of the professor. He may have forgotten some details, or he could be making up the whole thing.

The professor is supposed to be answering on his LJ (in Russian) -- he says the reason he hasn't yet answered is because he wants to read everyone's (Russian) guesses first.

For reference: the original, which the professor was not taking into account (apparently he knew it existed but didn't show it to his students -- the differences aren't what matter), and an okay version of the new one. There's also a version on Flickr -- I can't find it now, but you can tell the people are not looking directly at you, and some are smiling.

The disorder is supposed to be "very rare and severe," so I doubt autism-spectrum answers are right. The professor also said it has nothing to do with "dead things, sexual things, and autophobia." Someone guessed it had to do with the strawman Russians traditionally burn on that holiday, and the professor said something like "Close, but not a strawman." Russians have also said that all the groups of three aren't really unusual.
posted by booksandlibretti at 1:30 PM on December 3, 2006


I think people are reading too much in to it. It looks like a colorful Xmas card to me.
posted by DudeAsInCool at 1:49 PM on December 3, 2006


Has anyone asked askMefi? Anyhoo on to a lighter subject, this is worse than lost season 2+. Drag it out a little longer. What the fuck happened to that strange mist that would "take" people. And white dog shit, where has it gone. [War of the Worlds: quote 31], so there. I officially vomit from my eyes in this thread, [California Suite: quote 5]. Closure or death. Jesus plastic is back.
posted by econous at 1:53 PM on December 3, 2006


The original is a pleasant enough scene. The copy would look innocuous enough on its own I suppose, but seems rather weird in comparison with the original.

I hope it's not a hoax and that the answer is revealed. What's fascinating about this is the idea of something im plain sight, yet unnoticed, and with dark implications.
posted by jam_pony at 1:56 PM on December 3, 2006


According to this (2nd to last link in the post), the name of the painter is "Kuplin Ä." Anyone think there's a way of tracking down the illness that way?
posted by namespan at 1:59 PM on December 3, 2006


This is NOT a Puzzle. People are treating it like a Da Vinci painting (In Arcadio Est) and trying to find it's meaning.

Taking the story at face value, the painter has a psychotic disorder, and painted something. Not encoded something. Painted. He wasn't trying to make a mystery.

So we are looking for symbolism, perspective, not a cryptgram.

For example: Snowglobe is a great theory, snowman is not.

A butt/ vagina theory is also good.
posted by tomrac at 2:31 PM on December 3, 2006


This is just a stupid hoax.
posted by Justinian at 2:36 PM on December 3, 2006


MetaFilter: A butt/vagina theory is also good.
posted by knave at 2:58 PM on December 3, 2006


I was once told that the painter Maurice Utrillo had never depicted a human face in his cityscapes—a quirk that I attributed to some sort of deep-seated alienation and loneliness.

Then I noticed a very prominent face in one of his paintings and realized that if Utrillo painted them so rarely, it was probably only because he painted them so poorly.
posted by Iridic at 2:58 PM on December 3, 2006 [3 favorites]


Ah, Iridic, much like many comic book illustrators do not draw female breasts so weirdly because of deep-seated psychological problems, but rather because they have never actually seen a real female breast!
posted by Justinian at 3:16 PM on December 3, 2006


This is either a hoax or way too hard; maybe we should try to figure out the psychological illness this painting reveals instead.
posted by boaz at 3:24 PM on December 3, 2006


So he's a nervous snowman? I'm glad I didn't spend too much time on this.
posted by bob sarabia at 3:27 PM on December 3, 2006


It's a snowglobe.
posted by basicchannel at 4:27 PM on December 3, 2006


I'm afraid if I keep staring at this innocuous scene I'll go crazy.

Wait! Is that Santa Clause talking to that lady with the baby carriage?

boo hoo bubble hoo
posted by Twang at 4:40 PM on December 3, 2006


An answer has appeared on the Digg page which is convincing to me (for now anyway):
"The special feature of this picture in particular - and the new form of skill as a whole - in the fact that the author knew how to imprint on the linen not one static moment of time (as it was accepted millenium before it), but entire temporary shear. ... In reality on the picture is depicted only one troika, and only three houses. ... On our picture the genius of reckless artist imprinted precisely the impulse of time. Here there is not one object, which would remain without the motion at one place - the troika of horses flies forward, and houses relative to the eye of spectator change their arrangement in the space.
posted by jam_pony at 4:55 PM on December 3, 2006


that professor answered on LJ [...]

In this painting the author associated himself with a snowman. I don't remember everything, but the main clues were the "cold" color gamut of the whole picture and the absence of a bonfire (it's a tradition in Russia to make a bonfire on масленица...


Oh, масленица! How stupid of me! The answer was in front of me all the time...
posted by UbuRoivas at 5:50 PM on December 3, 2006


jam_pony: could you unpack that a bit for us slower MeFites? I don't understand what a "temporary shear" is, or what any of it means.
posted by arcticwoman at 8:03 PM on December 3, 2006


(or anyone else who understands it, really. It doesn't have to be jam_pony)
posted by arcticwoman at 8:04 PM on December 3, 2006


Ok, yeah, I think the guy's a snowman and he's afraid of melting. *shrug* Sounds as good as any. ;)

Here's some better scans of the pics:

The "insane" pic

The original picture
posted by Vamier at 8:20 PM on December 3, 2006


Thus the author completely disposed the painting from the original theme of winter coming to an end and the accompanying Marzanna celebration.

This reminds me of a cold war joke -

- Why do the Americans roll eggs down the White House Lawn at Easter?
- In the hope that the Russians will die of laughter!

Now this adds another dimension to the discussion, as Easter (also based on a much older pagan celebration) - would relate to Marzana through the ancient rights of passage from winter to spring.

Thus the painter must be tying the ancient and modern ideas of rebirth and regeneration.

To deepen the mystery even further the artist brings in the notion of Christmas (also originally a pagan festival celeberating mid-winter) - Christmas is in this painting represented by the three - three horse open sleighs.

As three is the next prime number after one - I think I know the mental condition the painter has.

Dan brown syndrome.
posted by Samuel Farrow at 8:20 PM on December 3, 2006 [1 favorite]


http://www.thevenusproject.com/
posted by econous at 8:39 PM on December 3, 2006


What?! The painter thought he might be a fucking snowman and was concerned about melting? Is that what the professor said? Well suck on this xmas nightmare and if you need it, I will draw it for you. Every day in December, no every night in December, I wake screaming, sweating, leaping from my bed and swinging at the air, as if someone had defenestrated me through a cheap advent calendar into my cold room to re-orient from a dream I have no time for. You know that Island of Misfit Toys? The one with King Moonracer traveling the world to disappear ludic oddities on his whim? That island with that fucked up elephant and fucked up cowboy and fucked up rag doll and fucked up Charlie in the Box? Well, in my dream they have not only been recruiting but breeding, you see, breeding, mixing and boiling their genes, raising twisted, beastly, no-longer-comic toys in an icy wasteland where they do nothing else but keep pushing along that path, breeding and breeding and breeding and then, occasionally, planning. But for what I do not know. So I wake terrified, forgetful, with some sense Island's history, and unbearable dread for its future because I know it includes me.

And anyway, you want to put that up against a snowman? You Russians are slipping, go read your Kharms.
posted by kingfisher, his musclebound cat at 8:49 PM on December 3, 2006 [2 favorites]


arcticwoman & anyone: the idea suggested by that poster was that the painter depicted a sleigh and three houses at one point in time; then the same sleigh and the same hill (with the same and maybe different buildings) at another time; then the scene at a third time - but painted them all side by side. In the time intervals, the horses change places; the riders are rearranged; buildings are added to; the viewer's perspective changes; and other differences occur. But we're seeing all three times at once.

I think the post was translated from Russian.

I also like the water theory tho. Both could be correct, in which case the painter has a lot going on there.
posted by jam_pony at 8:56 PM on December 3, 2006


Samuel, 1's not prime but 2 is.
posted by substrate at 8:56 PM on December 3, 2006


The clues on the page state this:
"The professor didn’t say what that sign was, leaving the students to do the guesswork. The only clues he gave was, “don’t look for small details, look at the whole; if you figure out what the phobia was, you’ve got the answer; ask yourself what could have preceded this scene; think of what the place would look like with all the objects removed“."
OK, so the artist has a fear of getting out of bed. He's never experienced the world and so his perception of it is mostly imagined and fed through images in the media/art. His world is his bed.

Answering the two questions: what could have preceded this scene? - A dream, possibly about the artwork - maybe the desire to get out into the world?

What the place would look like with all the objects removed? - A bed. The perspective of someone who lays in bed all day, afraid to get out of it and find out what the outside world is like. They artist has some knowledge from books and art, but hasn't for example, ever seen a snowman. The perspective is of a person imaging the scene playing out on the covers of their bed.

What do I get for figuring this out?
posted by DragonBoy at 9:10 PM on December 3, 2006


I think everybody is coming at this from the wrong angle.

In Russia, painting psychoanalyses you!
posted by UbuRoivas at 9:25 PM on December 3, 2006 [3 favorites]


Jam_pony, that hypothesis, that its the same picture in different times, that doesn't fit in with any of the hints, or the picture itself. The hint with air and water, or no-foreground-object hint, etc. The buildings are the same buildings that should be there, with little differences. The horses have not changed position at all.
posted by uni verse at 9:30 PM on December 3, 2006


ok , for real now. i'm gonna tell you all what you want to know.

you ready? ok.

fear of horses. if you remove all the trees and horses , what do you have. snow.

snow rymes with glow, glow is another word for light. what do we use light for? as mammalian creatures we use it to see. more to the point we use it to navigate the world around us.

so removing objects from a snowy landscape with no light , and no soda crackers to tide us over.

we find our selves irrevicably lost, blinded by what is right in front of or eyes. snow blindness.

and there in a nut s . . .
posted by nola at 9:49 PM on December 3, 2006


read the above with the as spoken by michael ian black
posted by nola at 9:57 PM on December 3, 2006


@ uni verse: The "multiple times" interpretation is not meant to answer the clues. Rather, it is something else that may be true of the painting (in addition to whatever signalled the mental condition to the professor).

"The buildings are the same buildings that should be there, with little differences. The horses have not changed position at all."

Sleigh 1: horses are brown, black, grey
Sleigh 2: horses are grey, brown, black
Sleigh 2: horses are brown, grey, black
Comparable changes in riders, drivers, etc..

The fact that the copy more-or-less matches the postcard in terms of buildings etc. doesn't rule out the "multiple times" interpretation of the copy. The painter may have perceived the original that way.

The aforementioned water theory, as advocated by TheAbsintheHare here and in the digg thread, is my vote for the answer to the clues.

Unless the whole thing is a hoax. If so it's a good one.
posted by jam_pony at 10:13 PM on December 3, 2006


In Kuplin's copy of Aivazovsky's "The Ninth Wave" (links in OP), there's a drowning man who's not in the original.
posted by jam_pony at 10:31 PM on December 3, 2006


If you remove all the objects, you get...

a polar bear in a blizzard!
posted by notswedish at 11:39 PM on December 3, 2006


After the "We are spring"comment, there is an interesting observation: In the original painting, it's clear that the sleighs are going down a snowy hill. In the copy, it looks more like they are going out onto a frozen lake. This ties in with the "air and water" hint, and phobia. The painter is afraid of drowning, afraid of water....... Maybe.
posted by TechnoLustLuddite at 11:44 PM on December 3, 2006


This is NOT a Puzzle. People are treating it like a Da Vinci painting (In Arcadio Est) and trying to find it's meaning. [...]
posted by tomrac at 2:31 PM PST on December 3

The painting is entitled "Et in Arcadia ego" and was painted by Nicolas Poussin ~118 years after Da Vinci's death. (wiki).

just sayin'
posted by flippant at 2:05 AM on December 4, 2006


Well, if one prints out the original and the nutter copy, with the nutter copy printed on a sheet of acetate. Much is revealed in overlaying them.

[hint: whilst obvious, it could hardly be used to convict. Get it?]
posted by econous at 3:22 AM on December 4, 2006


I call hoax. Anyone who has ever taken a creative writing class who had to throw something together at the last minute (I did, and it was a crap poem) only to read it in front of the class and have the teacher talk about how deep it was and the meaning and symbolism throughout, and how much time it must have taken, knows what I mean. People are reading too far into this. Maybe it's just a copy of a painting.

Of course I have no authority in this area, as I did just get burned on Sunday by my niece's refrigerator art. Apparently that was a person, not a tree, rendered in Crayola squiggles.
posted by sephira at 4:55 AM on December 4, 2006


flippant:

You're right. That's weird. I've seen pictures of the painting, I've read about the painting, and knew it was by Poussin, yet still wrote Da Vinci. Even when I read your comment, my first impulse was to say you were wrong.

Which leads me to my point-- we're looking at this painting as if it was a Da Vinci (or Da Vinci Code), and it's become so hard to see it any other way-- it's immediate and unconscious.

Which is clearly wrong. First, I've never heard of a "psychiatry professor." Can you take classes in psychiatry? Second, no psychiatrist would refer to a patient as "insane" (but maybe Russia is different.) Insane has a specific legal definition. Third, "psychoanalytic" and "psychiatric" are also different. If this is actually a "psychoanalytic mystery" then the answer comes by making associations (like my Da Vinci, above.)

So, if this is not a hoax (soon to be sold on Ebay like "Hands Resist Him"), then the answer is in his associations. For example, the snow is his naked belly, and he's watching these creatures play on him. Or he's dead.

But Hands Resist Him is a good guess.
posted by tomrac at 6:38 AM on December 4, 2006


Weird coincidence:

Hands Resist Him and this postcard were both painted in 1972.
posted by tomrac at 6:43 AM on December 4, 2006


First, I've never heard of a "psychiatry professor." Can you take classes in psychiatry?

Of course not, you become a psychiatrist by taking classes in public relations, and that is *exactly* why this whole thing is fishy :p

So, "It seems we’ve been hoaxed after all.". Who would've thought??
posted by pleeker at 1:33 PM on December 4, 2006 [1 favorite]


I feel as though we haven't reached a conclusion. Is this just a Rorschach?
posted by tehloki at 2:08 PM on December 4, 2006


Ya, well, this is almost as lame as the Impossible Watch "puzzle."
posted by The Deej at 6:07 PM on December 4, 2006


The "seems we've been hoaxed" link doesnt actually give any evidence, and in fact contradicts itself saying the professor refuses to discuss the matter. Although my vote has been hoax since about 2 minutes after I saw the painting.
posted by MetaMonkey at 7:19 PM on December 4, 2006


The painter has multiple personality disorder. From the looks of it, there are 3 major distinct personalities or ego-states.
posted by lightweight at 8:46 PM on December 4, 2006


Um, I don't think its a hoax: on the forum the original poster is saying he's pretty sure this is the answer, given by one of the students, its corny but stick with it to the end:

In this painting, we are Spring. You can see water, melting snow, in the lower left corner. The people are looking at us, afraid that their little world is about to melt down. They’re escaping from us, from Spring, in those sleds. It’s also why all the doors of all the houses are shut

But, the message he’s trying to communicate is not that he’s spring… The artist personifying spring does not represent his psychosis or phobia.

The message he’s trying to send is isolation and helplessness as evident by the other people not paying attention; His feeling of being trapped with no escape possible, exemplified by the drivers/childrens inability to escape; And, his fear and embarrassment of asking for help… represented by the fact that the children aren’t screaming for help.

other comments from site:
Do you not see the drowning people, and the others who aren’t watching?
The Horses are frantically trying to climb back up onto the ice.
The drivers are falling backwards into the water.
posted by uni verse at 8:23 AM on December 5, 2006


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