The Art of Crop Circles

Rob Irving with John Lundberg, edited by Mark Pilkington. The Field Guide: the Art, History and Philosophy of Crop Circle Making. Strange Attractor Press, 2006.

Issued to the general public for the first time, this book tells the inside story of the crop circles from the viewpoint of the circle makers. By circle makers, of course, I mean human artists, not supernatural entities, for this book presents circle making as art form, complete with a do-it-yourself guide to crop making. With any luck this book will get crop-art its due recognition, though I suspect that crop-art is just too aesthetically pleasing to be well regarded by the art establishment.

To an extent all art is in the eye of the beholder, and that is certainly the case here. Crop circles function as a kind of pure, anonymous, art, freed from the tyranny of the signature. Viewers can read what they want into it.

The book explores in some depth the symbiotic relationship between the crop artists and the 'cereologists'. Perhaps because crop artists deliberately tapped into the well of modern folklore of UFOs and 'saucer nests' they were able to create an audience which could not accept that the works in front of them were the works of human artists. Perhaps they could not accept human beings can produce beauty or pieces of genuinely moving and inspirational art, or perhaps they simply took the view that if they could not produce such works then no-one else could.

The motifs of the artists themselves are themselves ambiguous; the pioneers, Doug Bower and Dave Chorley, though both at least semi-professional artists, denied that their works were in fact art; they were hoaxes, tricks; here we have the artist as the trickster. In that sense they might be thought of as heirs of the artists who used their talents to produce the fake old masters and other big signatures, to expose the pomposity and greed of the gallery establishment. And the pseudo-scientific establishment of the cereology industry were indeed every bit as self regarding and pompous as any art critic. They were certain that they could distinguish the real works of their extraterrestrial Vermeers and Picassos from any jobbing fake. Needless to say they couldn’t.

The science of the cereologists bore only a semantic similarity to the real thing, mostly it was a science nerds rendition of the art critic’s pseudery, meaningless technospeak, emperors whose rampant nakedness could be seen clearly by any science-mad ten year old.

Irving and Lundberg parade a great line up of the croppie pseuds, the eccentrics, the cranks, the chancers, charlatans and downright crooks, and it is not always entirely clear which category some people fit into. Of those who were more or less honest their seem to be two main categories, the stupid and the clever, with the former trying oh-so-hard to emulate the latter, who were so blinded by their own cleverness that they just couldn’t see the obvious.

Under Irving’s case the claims made by the cereologists just wilt away, evidence presented turns out to be misunderstood (polemical historical pamphlets presented as though they were factual reports) or downright dodgy (a tale told by a notorious physical medium cum anomaly groupie presented by Terence Meaden as a sober scientific report, a well touted film of a ball of light producing a crop circle actually a well produced fake etc.).

The crop watchers mistook their sense of awe at a human work of art as some kind of external force. Their imaginations did the rest. Perhaps people really were healed in crop circles by some sort of placebo effect, the new art is placebo art.

Magonians have always argued that hoaxes of all kinds are works of art, some good, some bad. George Adamaski’s flying saucer models became iconic images of ‘flying saucers‘, people then ‘saw’ them, copied them, and were maybe even 'healed' by them.

For the tricksters of the 21st century there is quite a challenge, ufologists and paranormalists are just too easy a target, hoaxing them is like stealing candy from children. Its time to take on the big boys, could someone pull of a hoax which would cause genuine consternation in official circles, get the scientific mainstream making total asses of themselves, and persuade a sizeable chunk of CSICOP or whatever it is called nowadays, to defect and start believing in half a dozen impossible things before breakfast? -- Reviewed by Peter Rogerson.

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