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Events & Reports
Transcript of the 2nd Dennis Rosen Memorial Lecture
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LISA JARDINE
Can I then ask you a question to see what perhaps Howard makes of the answer. What about pleasure? I know you said that about colours of food but if we move away from the very causal, the very direct, what about perception and feeling, other than the raw feelings of I can eat that, or I’m frightened. When Howard talks about precision, when he writes about how, when he has laid on ever so many layers of colour, there comes a point when the memory has made the thing real again, or am I misquoting you? That is a different register of feeling. Does your perceptual version of colour account for that register of feeling?
RICHARD GREGORY
I think that science is very weak on this. There is quite a lot done on emotion, started really by Darwin, whose brilliant analysis of facial expressions and emotions in man and animals actually set the whole scene for modern studies of emotion. His argument really was a very interesting one. It went like this. An animal responds to a situation in order to cope. In other words, when it sees its mate, it does the right thing. It sees food and does the right thing. Or it sees food that has gone off and throws it away. Colour is one of the signals for this. If a girl, let’s say, has a nice healthy looking cheeks, or nice hair, she is probably a better bet for the next generation. That’s all part of the coding which is there.
LISA JARDINE
You don’t really believe that?
RICHARD GREGORY
Darwin went beyond that. He said you get a bodily reaction to this. You get visceral changes taking place. You blush and so on. The emotion is actually the sensation of the bodily reaction to the situation. So I look at the charming girl, blush, and go like this. My emotion is really sensing my bodily reaction. Bodily reactions can’t be fooled by emotion?? This is the James-Langer theory developed from Darwin, in a way, by William James and Langer. Modern theories of emotion, on the whole, are rather like this. They are related to the physiology, the changes you get in a given situation and then whether the emotion is the sensing of the bodily change, which goes back again to evolution and whether it’s useful or not.

Now, whether the painter is evoking all that biological stuff, I haven’t the
faintest idea. I really don’t know.

HOWARD HODGKIN
Nor do I
RICHARD GREGORY
This is a terribly interesting point. When you are looking at a picture you know it’s a picture. It’s not an actual girl you could take out to tea or more. It’s a piece of canvas with colours on it. Yet you know it’s supposed to be a girl. Does that evoke the basic reactions that Darwin talks about? I don’t know.
HOWARD HODGKIN
No, I shouldn’t think so at all.
RICHARD GREGORY
So what’s going on?

HOWARD HODGKIN
Trompe l’Oeil, which is what you are talking about. Deceiving. I’ve forgotten the name of the famous early Greek painter who painted the bunch of cherries. Deceiving the eye very rarely works. Without going into lots of side issues like the invention of photography, and colour photography, film, television, paintings do look like paintings rather than young girls.
RICHARD GREGORY
I wasn’t referring to Trompe l’Oeil particularly, it could be a cartoon, on this argument. Indeed you could look at a cartoon and laugh your head off. It can evoke emotional reactions. Why can it do that? You know it’s a bunch of lines. You know it’s not really there as an object.
HOWARD HODGKIN
I can’t answer that at all. To me it is an object.

LISA JARDINE
Okay, could you say a bit more about that.
HOWARD HODGKIN
Like what? I have to believe when I’m working, and of course I do. Until this moment I never thought that all I did didn’t exist. I have to believe that when I am working on a painting, when I say believe I don’t mean it’s an intellectual thing, I don’t mean that it’s a thought. It’s far more instinctive than that. I have to believe that certain colours when I put them down have a certain effect on the spectator. But it is not in any way codified and I’m not sure that’s ever been known to work very well. Going back to Seurat, for example, he had all sorts of ideas at one time about the effects of colour which were not entirely physical, as it were, they were also emotional. He also had bizarre theories about certain shapes going up like that (hand gesture) made you feel happy. If they were going down they made you feel sad. But it didn’t really work. So I’m not sure I entirely agree with you when you say it doesn’t matter what it is. It’s just a bundle of lines. As an artist I cannot work on that assumption.
RICHARD GREGORY
I was really asking purely the question, why is something you recognise as a bunch of lines. Here you’ve got lines that have no function at all. Yet they evoke emotional responses. In a sense this a possible flaw in my argument.
HOWARD HODGKIN
I’m afraid it’s a question I can’t answer because if I could I couldn’t do what I do.

LISA JARDINE
That’s very interesting. In a way the scientist will always be retrospectively accounting for the visual impact which we are trying to account for. Whereas the artist, in a way, must never think about that, else he would stop.

Most artists take a very significant period of time to produce the visual effect, that is it doesn’t happen in one morning. You go back to it. Not you alone, artists go back and I know in your own case, and I’m trying not to directly allude to your paintings, in your own case you come back and back and you build up layers until the point at which you are in some sense satisfied. Does that have anything to do with worrying what the viewer will see when they look at the painting?

HOWARD HODGKIN
You don’t know what the viewer will see, not really. Much as I like when I’m working to feel that when I’ve finished a picture it’s out there and it is for you and not for me. You don’t really know that. You can’t. There’s no way you can. I would like to go back a little further. I can’t answer your question but there have been artists who have tried very hard to. I mentioned Seurat, but perhaps the most notorious example is Piero della Francesca who was one of the greatest painters in the world until he started theorising about it. His inspiration, or what ever you would call it, vanished. Even his ability to draw, which was miraculous, vanished.. He wrote pages and pages and pages of theory about what happened when you drew an image of a human being and how to do it and how to do it as economically and rationally as possible.
RICHARD GREGORY
So in a way science can endanger art.
HOWARD HODGKIN
I don’t believe that for a minute.
RICHARD GREGORY
But it follows. If an explanation is important in how you live with what you are doing, and then some old scientist comes along and says “Look there’s no such thing as colour, you might as well throw yourself out of the window”?
HOWARD HODGKIN
I don’t agree at all. I think it would be very interesting if science could answer the question which you just asked me.
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