The Psytrait

Head of a Boy

A work of art may only live by what it stimulates and nourishes in the mind of its beholder and for every painting there are as many births (or deaths) as there are viewers. It is in consideration of these facts that I have conceived the idea of the psytrait.

The psytrait has nothing to do with the portrait in the conventional sense of trying to capture or reproduce the likeness of a visual image. Neither is it an attempt to portray through illusionary or anecdotal effects what is commonly known as the 'imaginary' portrait.

At a glance history shows that all human societies and cultures evolve their identities through idealized configurations of the human physiognomy. Individually and collectively the representation of the human visage has always been an integral factor of mankinds material establishment (the head of a coin) and spiritual progress (the icon). From the cradle to the grave the most powerful set of symbols embedded in the human psyche are those which communicate the human face. From the moment we first open our eyes we encounter and communicate on every level through human facial expression, and throughout our lives it is always the human face that is the greatest unconscious motif of our minds. It is the primal archetype that moves us to locate it anywhere; from faces in the clouds or the flames of a fire to the man in the moon.

Head of a Girl(Christchurch)

We all see life (and art) through the grids of our memory-bank, a grid that shapes and conditions our personal viewpoint. The successful psytrait will communicate by tapping into that memory-bank and evoke in the mind of the viewer a sense of recognition. Initially such discovered resemblance is more likely to be unconscious than conscious as its potential will lie not so much in a visual but in an emotional recognition. More than just look like someone it may feel like them.

From the creator's point of view the psytrait is a matter of constructing (as much from the unconscious as conscious) the human visage in the most delicate and ambiguous terms possible. Line, volume and colour at all levels of application must imply rather than define, suggest an alternative before an absolute, and remain inconclusive in the extreme.

From the observer's point of view the image will evoke a psychological reaction which may be termed 'creative recognition'. From the fusion of conscious and unconscious memory the mind is activated towards its own gestalt conclusions which generate a natural exertion towards a personal identification. It is creative in that it stimulates constructive mental effort towards recognition.

Head of a Girl

The psytrait creator uses the delineation of human features (however loosely) merely as a vehicle to carry the work through various states of ambivalence. The finished product should contain the potential to communicate on many levels simultaneously which means that the face (or faces) will at all points avoid any particular forms of representation, thus allowing the mentality of the viewer to form its own analytical and creative responses.

While such work evolves through highly subjective application its ultimate purpose is to stimulate, through its objective realization, an equally highly subjective response from the viewer. The Oriental dictum 'Less is more' is to be greatly respected as the creator of such work treads the fine line of distinction between meaning and potential meaning.

Of course, bearing these points in mind, it must be said that many successful paintings embody qualities of the psytrait, the great difference is that in this instance there is a definition of purpose.The purpose of psytraitism may be defined as an effort to strengthen psychic awareness by communicating something of the universal through the ambiguities of the particular.

This is not an art theory. It is an art-ideal in which more credence is given to the viewer of art as a necessary participatory element. I believe that if such an ideal proves practicable then surely it enhances communicative power not only between artist and viewer, but, through the expansion of cognitive potential and sentience, between humans in general.

PSYTRAIT Etymology:

Head of a Woman(Christchurch)


(From the Latin) tractus - drawing or draught.
Mark made with stylus, pen or pencil. Line or touch. (1593)
Line or lineament, especially of the face.
Distinguishing feature or characteristic. (1752)
Particular characteristic of personality. (19th and 20th century)


(From the Greek) psyche - myth - personified God of Love, Cupid or Eros.
Breath, soul or life. Soul or spirit as distinguished from body. (1647)
Of the mind. Mental phenomena. (1811)
Psych - ology- study of mind. (20th century)


Amalgam of the above.
A drawing or painting where, through essentially abstract configuration, human features or characteristics are implied arousing in the viewer an unconscious and/or conscious response of personal recognition.