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Spontaneous activity of tissues or cells.
An act performed with no apparent exercise of will, as in sleepwalking and certain hysterical and epileptic states.


(religion, spiritualism, and occult)

Automatism covers acts that are automatic in so far as they are not consciously produced. This would cover such things as automatic writing, drawing, painting, playing musical instruments, singing, and dancing. Frederick W. H. Myers divided automatism into two main types: motor automatism (active) and sensory automatism (passive). Motor automatism is movement of the tongue, head, or limbs, without guidance by the conscious mind. Sensory automatism is the external presentation of information received clairvoyantly or clairaudiantly. Rosemary Ellen Guiley points out that since ancient time automatisms have been attributed to spirits and to the gods.

The spirit paintings such as those done by the Bangs sisters are examples of automatism in which paintings were produced directly onto the canvases. The music of deceased masters played by Rosemary Brown is another example. Many such occurrences have been viewed by skeptics as examples of extrasensory perception or of secondary personalities coming through and producing information that has been long suppressed and forgotten. However, there are numerous cases of automatic writing which refute this explanation, producing material totally foreign to the automatist. A good example of this is the material that was produced by Pearl Curran, first by Ouija® board and then by automatic writing. Mrs. Curran, a St. Louis housewife, had sparse education and yet produced writings—over a period of more than seven years—which displayed detailed knowledge of life in the mid-1600s, both in England and in the American colonies. This was dictated by the spirit of a seventeenth century English woman named Patience Worth. It has been viewed as one of the finest examples ever of spirit contact.


Buckland, Raymond: Buckland’s Book of Spirit Communications. St. Paul: Llewellyn, 2004
Guiley, Rosemary Ellen: The Encyclopedia of Ghosts and Spirits. New York: Facts On File, 1992



(1) In physiology, the capacity of an organ or of certain cells for rhythmic, periodic, or aperiodic activity without apparent connection with external, inciting causes. Some examples of automatism are heart contractions, looping of the intestines even when removed from the body, the fluttering of the cilia of certain epithelial cells, and the movement of protoplasm in plant cells. The cause of automatism is either the cyclic character of metabolic processes in the cells or, on a higher level of organization, the activity of systems of stimulated cells—for example, nerve cells located in the cardiac muscle or in the respiratory center of the brain. Another form of automatism, resulting from the strengthening of conditioned reflex connections, is stereotypical activity performed passively and mechanically—for example, the movement of the extremities in walking, the so-called associated movements of various groups of muscles (in the neck, trunk, or extremities), and other motor automatisms.


(2) In psychology, an action performed with the almost complete absence of conscious control. In contradistinction to physiological processes (such as breathing and the working of the heart), which are originally involuntary, psychological actions proceed primarily under conscious control and are only gradually transformed, as learning proceeds, into automatic acts that become the basis for various kinds of habits. On the physiological level, automatism corresponds to the dynamic stereotype.


References in periodicals archive ?
1) "Borduas and the Automatist Epic" opened at the Musee d'art contemporain de Montreal on May 9, 1998 and remains on view through November 29.
BY SUBMITTING some of his most intimate and improvisatory sketchbook drawings to reproduction at local copy shops (otherwise dedicated to products such as take-out menus), Jamie's Xerox books hint at further historical constraints on the automatist legacy.
That is not to say that Masson's early works, such as Le Reve du prisonnier (The Dream of the reisoner), 1924, solely manifest the automatist methods of the day; quite to the contrary, the painting is sober, self-consciously hieratic, with a sibylline mixture of allegorical figure, disdain for color, and a studious synthetic cubism (a mode the Surrealists were at pains to overthrow for its by-then marked aestheticism and decorative complacency).
In the 1990s, this practice was reflexively attuned to the institutional context (Fred Wilson, Mark Dion), but in the past decade it has taken a more automatist form, subordinating legible or didactic connections between works to the imperative of individual sensibility, as for example in Mark Wallinger's "The Russian Linesman" (2009), Vik Muniz's "Rebus" (2009), or Grayson Perry's phenomenally popular "The Tomb of the Unknown Craftsman" (2011).
Resembling spectral visages materializing from smoke, these faces convey a sense of contingency that arises in part from the drawings' beginnings as automatist doodles.
In the '40s, drawing had become a central and divisive topic in New York art circles, with the debate to some extent organizing itself around two models-- an automatist and Jungian symbolic model on the one hand, and one premised on the earlier mechanistic diagrams of Duchamp, Ernst, and Picabia on the other.
This figure is painted rather thinly and quite methodically, devoid of the gestural or graphic flourishes we normally associate with an automatist and expressive approach, although it manages to get its arms (actually, its arm) around these tendencies nonetheless.