Program Details

Artist as Neuroscientist: A Visuo-Cognitive Safari Through the Provocative Art of René François Ghislain Magritte

Russell Hamer
Arts & Letters / History
Video Catch-up

Course Description

In 2014, Russell D. Hamer, PhD a visual neuroscientist who studies how the eye and brain process light information to create our rich visual world, took an audio tour of an exhibition of Rene Magritte’s art at MOMA in NYC. The tour’s descriptions were interesting, full of historical context, but missing any basic understanding of the visual perception “tricks” that Magritte so masterfully employed in his paintings. Driven by curiosity and admiration for the art, Dr. Hamer began to write about Magritte’s work. Join in the discovery as we analyze several of Magritte's iconic paintings from the unique point-of-view (POV) –the visual and brain mechanisms that are evoked by his surreal designs. Like a neuroscientist, Magritte deliberately revealed our visual brain processes in action! Most discussions of art are from an art critic's perspective, but this course will add a new dimension to your appreciation of art.


  1. Introduction to Art & Visual Neuroscience 
  2. How Do We Perceive Objects to Be Organized In 3-D From a 2-D Painting? Magritte’s “Le Blanc Seing” 
  3. Representation in Art & Brain: Magritte’s “La Condition Humaine”  
  4. Representation of Emotion and Our Inner Lives: Magritte’s “Les Jours Gigantesque”  

About the Instructor

  • Russell D. Hamer, PhD is a visual neuroscientist who studies how the eye and brain process light information to create our rich visual world. He received his PhD in Sensory Neuroscience at Syracuse University, followed by post-doctoral research at the University of Washington, Seattle, and the University of California, Berkeley. After two decades of research at the Smith-Kettlewell Eye Research Institute (San Francisco), he continued research and teaching at the Institute of Psychology at the University of Sao Paulo, Sao Paulo, Brazil. He is one of the world's leading experts on visual development. His work helped establish what an infant's visual world is like from the moment of birth. His current work turns to understanding the impact visual art has on us from the point of view of eye and brain mechanisms, including higher-level interpretative and emotional processes in the brain. It is only recently that we have been able to study such mechanisms scientifically to unravel experience previously thought to be the domain of philosophers and psychologists.