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Events & Reports
Transcript of the 2nd Dennis Rosen Memorial Lecture
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RICHARD GREGORY
I feel quite worried that I destroyed a great work. On Face to Face with Friedman, he was interviewing Henry Moore. Henry Moore apparently started to read Jung, and then thought that all his art was disappearing out of his mind. So he stopped reading Jung, apparently. He was frightened of Jung because it destroyed his artistic impulse. Maybe that is possible. I’m thinking about art to science. Is there a danger?

HOWARD HODGKIN
No, I don’t think there’s any danger. It sounds as if art might be a danger to science.
RICHARD GREGORY
I hope so.
HOWARD HODGKIN
On the contrary. I think that science could be a great help but it is not as one to one, as some of these questions would suggest.
RICHARD GREGORY
I would like to put the following analogy, if I may. If one is a violinist, which I am not, should a violinist know about the physics of a violin? Should a musician know about the way the instrument works? Similarly should a painter or musician know about the mind? About the brain, because you are playing upon our brains and minds as on a violin. I would have thought it’s rational for the artist, art schools indeed, to know much more about perception. I really would.

HOWARD HODGKIN
Yes, I think that’s quite true. It would help if it was taught in some way that was relevant to what they are doing but as they don’t know what they’re doing anyway…..

Audience member interjects: We’re not taught about colour.

LISA JARDINE
I have a suspicion that there are art students up there.
HOWARD HODGKIN
Who was it who said you weren’t taught about colour?

Audience member reiterates:
She had very little training in colour theory, one or two days in her course. It’s not adequate. She had no training in perception. Very limited in a three-year course. Is that a bad thing?

HOWARD HODGKIN
It might be fatal. How do I know. I do think that, going back to what you said, that training in colour is not so far possible. All sorts of things can be pointed out to you but, as I was very unsuccessfully trying to point out earlier, we all have a sense of colour, we all see it, we all experience it. When I was a student and also when I was a teacher, I think that what seemed to be most important was to somehow open, I hesitate to use the word mind, and make people feel that their senses could react to what they saw.

If you approach it from a more verbal position, and this is why I am finding it so difficult to talk about, I think it is very much more difficult. That is why I was talking about the brilliant teacher of teachers of small children because it isn’t a verbal thing, with total respect, the perception of colour. It’s something physical.

LISA JARDINE
Could I ask you to take us a bit further with it. When you put up the parallel lines with the black block, to the audience looking full on it looked like wobbly lines. Actually as we looked up here it was perfectly clearly parallel lines because we were seeing it from an odd angle. Everybody in the room sees that the same. What Howard is saying is that you cannot anticipate how people see colour.

I’m not wanting to make sharp distinctions. The beautiful stuff I learnt from your books about what we will all see when a particular form is rotated and our eye adjusts to it. Now that has always seemed to me bewilderingly clear-cut. Even though it is an optical illusion we absolutely all see it the same and, in spite of what Howard says, all art students know how to play those games. You’re very optically aware. But I am hearing that there is something much more and much less. From Howard’s side colour is very precise for him, from the perception side colour is not precise. It is less easy to speak about how people will see colours.

RICHARD GREGORY
Yes, I would say that. Colour vision is extremely difficult to investigate because of these contexts effects. I think this is so.
HOWARD HODGKIN
Which makes it so subjective, apparently. But do you really think it is?
RICHARD GREGORY
Yes. First it is generated within one’s self, but what actually produces the sensation of colour is very very complicated. For example, if you have a fuzzy coloured patch and then you make a pencil mark around it the contrast increases. The colour is much more vivid but all you have done is add a pencil line around it. If you then put it in the context of an outside scene, or a room where the lighting is different, or is imagined to be different, that will change the colour. In fact the visual system will compensate for colour of light: what we call the ambient light. That even happens in a picture when one imagines what the colour is like. It could be shining on the object. This is immensely complicated, and in a way subjective, but we have all got these complex mechanisms which we can investigate.
AUDIENCE QUESTIONS

LISA JARDINE
I think we should let people ask you questions. Please wait until a microphone reaches you.

Question 1
The question of the emotional response to colour is an interesting one as it seems to bridge art and science. The artist is attempting to evoke an emotion often. We also have emotional responses to colours that may not even occur in nature. So what can be said about the emotional response so colours, even out of context to just look at a blue sky which is encompassing all the vision just to see that one colour, evokes an emotional response. Is that purely a learnt thing or what mechanism might be operating there?
RICHARD GREGORY
It is a complex subject because of these interactive effects, but I think there is no doubt that biologically we are coded to respect certain colours, because they were good to eat, they were environments in which plants grew and animals thrived. A garden is a beautiful place partly because it the sort of environment we survived in very well in the beginnings of mankind or earlier, pre-human I think. That’s the sort of broad brush, if I can use the word brush in your presence, that I am embarrassed to do. It starts off, I think, with what is likely to be biologically useful and much the same with all people. If they look well, or ill, there is an immediate response or empathy, which is often triggered by the pallor of their cheeks or whether the cheeks are red. Colour is a signal here for biological fitness. I would say that is probably the origin of the whole thing. On top of that you’ve got symbolism. From individual experience. Having experienced pictures in the past. The thing then develops and enriches itself. To talk about what the origins of it are, is one thing. To talk about how it gets enriched by society, by experience, by symbolism, is then a development from that which gives it its richness.

LISA JARDINE
Then you are cheating Howard. If you take a painting of yours like Diner at Palazzo Albirizzi, there is blue in the middle of that which is certainly evoking sky and light, is it not?

HOWARD HODGKIN
I’ve no idea.
Continued 2 3 4 5 6

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