The Brain’s Perception of Richard Serra, Artaud, 2009
Smart Museum of Art
My name is Peggy Mason. I’m a professor of neurobiology at the University of Chicago. And I’m going to talk about Richard Serra’s “Artaud,” which is a beautiful, very large painting, taller than I am.
And what I love about it, besides its presence, is how textured it is. I love texture. And texture brings in so many contrasts, it brings in both the contrasts that one imagines, would happen if one ran your fingertips over it, it also brings in the contrast of light and dark because the texture is so thick that it creates its own shadows in the piece.
But there are also contrast in light and dark that form both because there’s some unpainted canvas that one can see. So black on unpainted canvas. But also because there’s black, and then there’s black. Because there are shadows from the black. And the entire impression that one gets when one looks at it is of a black planet, that’s what it is to me. So it’s a black planet in a black space. And yet, if you look at it, it’s a disk. It’s flat, with a lot of texture built into that flatness. But the edge of this object that we perceive is just a disk. I’m reading into it a sphere, because he’s managed to do that.
To represent something in the world, one has to break down the expectation of it. And that’s really something that is neurobiologically so difficult. Think about a kid drawing a person. Well, they’re going to draw exactly what they’re expected to do, some stick figure version of a person. Give them an alien, or give them an insect if they have no expectations, all of the sudden, they can look at it and draw it. And that’s a very tough thing for the brain to do. And what’s so impressive to me about artists is that they manage to break down the expectation that we all live with. It’s the shortcut that the brain is built to produce for us, it makes our daily living so much easier. But to do art, you have to reject that shortcut that the brain is providing for you.
Long Image DescriptionLong descriptions are text versions of the information provided in a detailed or complex image, like the image above.
A circle of thickly encrusted black paint dominates this immense drawing, which measures over six feet tall and six feet wide. Off-center, almost touching the drawing’s left and bottom edges but slightly further from its right and top edges, the circle protrudes from the page, its uneven surface built up of heavy globs of black paint. The border of the circle, where this mass of paint gives way to the relative flatness of the page, is clumpy rather than crisp, yet still clearly demarcates the shape, especially when regarded from a distance. Seeming to explode outwards past the outline of the circle, black paint splatters the corners of the drawing in overlapping ribbons and globs, leaving small patches of white paper visible.