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April 23, 2007, 7:30 PM

Eye of the Beholder

Participants: Suzanne Anker, Francis Baudry, David Freedberg, Vittorio Gallese, Edward Nersessian (moderator), Barbara Maria Stafford

This roundtable will focus on the visual and plastic arts as they relate to the phenomenon of mirror neurons. A recent discovery in the brains of primates, mirror neurons are special neurons that show activity both when a subject performs an action and when it observes the same action performed by another. Some scientists consider mirror neurons one of the most important findings in neuroscience in the last decade, in part because they are thought to be responsible for the empathic response in humans. The continued exploration of phenomena like mirror neurons offers the possibility of understanding long-standing aesthetic questions such as the human urge to imitate, the exploration of inner space, and the roles of narrative and non-narrative representation. The discussion will center on how neuroscientific discoveries can illuminate creativity, and in turn influence our understanding of how we perceive art and how it functions on both an individual and societal level.

Suzanne Anker is a visual artist and theoretician working with genetic imagery. Her work has been shown both nationally and internationally in museums and galleries including the Walker Art Center, the Smithsonian Institute, the Philips Collection, P.S.1 Museum, the Stadkunst in Koln, and the Museum of Modern Art in Japan.

Francis Baudry is a Training and Supervising Analyst at The New York Psychoanalytic Society and Institute. He has written on film (Mr. Klein, The Dead, and Girl with the Pearl Earring) and on James Joyce, William Faulkner, and Gustave Flaubert.

David Freedberg is Professor of Art History at Columbia University and Director of The Italian Academy for Advanced Studies in America. He is best known for his work on psychological responses to art, and particularly for his studies on iconoclasm and censorship.

Vittorio Gallese is Professor of Human Physiology at the University of Parma, where he teaches cardiovascular physiology and neurophysiology in the School of Medicine. He also teaches neuroscience in graduate program in Philosophy of Mind at the University of Bologna. His main research interest lies in the relationship between action perception and cognition and has published several papers about mirror neurons.

Edward Nersessian (moderator) is Co-Director of the Philoctetes Center. He is a psychoanalyst and Clinical Professor of Psychiatry at Weill-Cornell Medical College.

Barbara Maria Stafford is William B. Ogden Distinguished Service Professor of Art History at the University of Chicago. She is the author of seven books, including Visual Anthology: Consciousness as the Art of Connecting and the forthcoming Echo Object: The Cognitive Work of Images.


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