The Rubin is transforming. Read important updates from our Executive Director.

Through Tristan's Eyes


Saturday, March 21, 2009
7:00 PM–9:00 PM

What can the quest for perfection tell us about our brains? World-renowned theater director Peter Sellars sits down to talk with the world’s first professor of neuroaesthetics, Semir Zeki. Zeki’s latest book, Splendors and Miseries of the Brain, delves into the brain’s role in synthesizing multiple experiences simultaneously, particularly in relation to art, using examples taken from the works of Michelangelo, Cézanne, Balzac, Dante, and Wagner’s Tristan und Isolde.
Splendors and Miseries of the Brain: Love, Creativity, and the Quest for Human Happiness will be available for purchase at the Shop @ RMA. The author will be available after the program to sign copies.

Peter Sellars creates imaginative contemporary stagings of classical operas and plays. He studied in Japan, China, and India before becoming Artistic Director of the Boston Shakespeare Company in 1983. His innovative visions of Mozart’s operas Cosi Fan Tutte, The Marriage of Figaro, and Don Giovanni were hailed in Boston and in Europe and were televised by National Public Television. At age twenty-six Sellars was named Director of the American National Theater at the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C. He later acted as Artistic Director of the 1990 and 1993 Los Angeles Festivals, and he is currently a Professor of World Arts and Cultures at UCLA. A frequent guest at the Salzburg and Glyndebourne Festivals, he has specialized in twentieth century operas, most notably Olivier Messaien’s St. François d’Assise, Paul Hindemith’s Mathis der Maler, György Ligeti’s Le Grand Macabre, and, with choreographer Mark Morris, the premiere of John Adams and Alice Goodman’s Nixon in China and The Death of Klinghoffer. He is a recipient of the MacArthur Prize Fellowship and was awarded the Erasmus Prize at the Dutch Royal Palace for contributions to European culture.

Semir Zeki is the world’s first professor of neuroaesthetics, recently appoined at the University College London. Zeki has pioneered the study of the primate visual brain and furthered research on how affective states are generated by visual inputs. He has published extensively in his field, including the books Inner Vision: an Exploration of Art and the Brain (1999) and A Vision of the Brain (Wiley-Blackwell, 1993), and has also co-authored a book with the late French painter Balthus, entitled La Quête de l’essentiel (1995).
His new book, Splendors and Miseries of the Brain, whose title is derived from Balzac’s novel of the same name, delves into the brain’s key functions of obtaining knowledge and forming concepts about the world. It addresses the role of the synthetic concept in the brain (the synthesis of many experiences) in relation to art, using examples taken from the work of Michelangelo, Cézanne, Balzac, Dante, and Peter Sellars’ Tristan Project.
“This book is not about what neuroscience reveals about love and about art, but it is about what love and art reveal about the brain. This book reveals the intimate relationship between the fundamental function of the brain and the highest of human experiences.” – Chris Frith FRS, University College London, and author of Making up the Mind