Touching Art: Tribute to Judith Scott

The role of touch in emotional expression through the lens of outsider artist, Judith Scott, and Art Brut.

Event Details


swissnex San Francisco
730 Montgomery St., San Francisco, 94111 United States


April 19, 2013 from 5:30 pm to 9:00 pm America/Los Angeles (UTC-07:00)

The role of touch in emotional expression is clear. A hug, a high-five, a caress can all convey feeling and help relieve stress or pain. The sensations of touch can also play an important role in the creative process of some artists, in particular artists who are hearing or sight impaired or acutely sensitive to touch.

The role of touch in emotional expression is clear. A hug, a high-five, a caress can all convey feeling and help relieve stress or pain. The sensations of touch can also play an important role in the creative process of some artists, in particular artists who are hearing or sight impaired or acutely sensitive to touch.

As part of our series on the skin, swissnex San Francisco invites the public to learn more about the close relationship between touch and the emotion through the lens of artist Judith Scott, who was deaf and mute yet produced an impressive body of work over 20 years at the Creative Growth Art Center in Oakland, California.

The short film “Judith Scott’s Magic Cocoons” will be screened along with presentations from experts including Sandra Weiss, professor at UCSF and co-editor of “The Handbook of Touch: Neuroscience, Behavioral and Health Perspectives,” who explains the physiological pathways behind the benefits of touch.

This event is a collaboration with the Collection de l’Art Brut (Lausanne, Switzerland).


6:30 pm

doors open

7:00 pm


7:10 pm

presentation of Art Brut, Sarah Lombardi, Director of the Art Brut Collection, Lausanne, Switzerland

7:35 pm

“Judith Scott’s Magic Cocoons,” a short film by Philippe Lespinasse

8:10 pm

overview of Scott’s work by Tom Di Maria
, Director of the Creative Growth Art Center, Oakland, California

8:35 pm

the relationship between touch and emotion, Sandra Weiss, Department of Community Health Systems, UC San Francisco

9:00 pm

audience Q&A

9:15 pm

reception and networking

10:00 pm

  doors close

Bios and Abstracts

Sarah Lombardi

Art historian Sarah Lombardi took over as director of the Collection de l’Art Brut in Lausanne, Switzerland, in March 2013. As curator, research associate, and interim at the museum over an eight-year period, she coordinated numerous exhibitions for the museum, in Switzerland and abroad.
From 2001 to 2003, Lombardi served as exhibition coordinator for the Foundation for Therapeutic Art and Art Brut in Montreal (Quebec) and, in 2001, taught French-Swiss literature at the University of Montreal.
As an independent exhibition curator (Montreal, New York, Lausanne, Brussels), she co-authored Richard Greaves, Anarchitect (publ. Milan/Montreal, 5 Continents Editions/Société des arts indisciplinés, 2005), and penned countless articles on Art Brut in various exhibition catalogues and specialized reviews.

The conference will discuss the concept of Art Brut and its significance as Jean Dubuffet conceived and developed it – leading to the opening of the Collection de l’Art Brut in Lausanne, Switzerland, in 1976. It will then present three authors of Art Brut for whom the dimension of touch is essential in the creative process: Judith Scott, Emile Ratier, and Shinichi Sawada. Judith Scott has also been the subject of a documentary co-produced in 2006 by the Collection de l’Art Brut (Lausanne) and Locomotive films (Bordeaux) which will be broadcast during the evening.


Tom Di Maria

Tom di Maria has been Creative Growth Art Center’s director since 2000. Prior to this position, he served as Assistant Director of the Berkeley Art Museum/Pacific Film Archive, at UC Berkeley. He has worked as the Executive Director of FRAMELINE, and as Director of Development and Marketing at the San Francisco Film Society. He holds a B.F.A. from Rochester Institute of Technology and a M.F.A. from Maryland Institute, College of Art, in film and photography. Tom is also an award-winning filmmaker, with short film awards from Sundance, Black Maria, Sinking Creek, National Educational Media, and New York Experimental film festivals.

Di Maria describes Judith Scott’s method of working, which includes accumulating and bundling objects, and the tactile pleasure of her work. Di Maria also reviews Scott’s relationship to Creative Growth and the progression of her work from Art Brut into contemporary.


Sandra Weiss, PhD

Sandra J. Weiss, PhD, DNSc, FAAN is a Professor in the Department of Community Health Systems and the Robert C. & Delphine Wentland Eschbach Endowed Chair at the University of California, San Francisco. Dr. Weiss has studied the phenomenon of touch as a primary area of research for 30 years. During this time, she has examined specific neurophysiologic and affective properties of touch and has developed measures of both touch behavior and response to touch that have been used in research internationally. Her major focus has been parental touch and its impact on the neuropsychological development and mental health of high-risk infants and children. She has also studied different properties of touch used by health professionals in hospital environments and their impact on the health outcomes of medically compromised children and adults.
Dr. Weiss is currently studying the ways in which genetic, neuroendocrine, and autonomic nervous system factors influence the sensitivity of infants to touch. She is also studying the ways in which caregiver touch affects both the emotional and physiologic responses of infants. Her research has been funded by the National Institutes of Health, the Bureau of Health Services Administration, the State of California, and a variety of private foundations. Her work on touch has been covered by CNN, CBS and ABC as part of programs on ‘The Senses’, ‘Discoveries in Medical Science’, and ‘Medical Advances.’ In addition to numerous other publications about touch, she is co-editor of a recent book entitled ‘The Handbook of Touch: Neuroscience, Behavioral and Health Perspectives’.

Dr. Weiss will discuss the language of touch and how it communicates emotion. She will describe specific ways in which touch can affect neurochemicals and other aspects of physiology to elicit emotional responses. She will also clarify how an individual’s unique tactile temperament can affect the ways in which touch is perceived and ultimately influence psychological well being.


More Info

Judith Scott’s Magic Cocoons
A 36-minute film by Philippe Lespinasse, French/English, Collection de l’Art Brut/Lokomotive films, Lausanne/Bordeaux, 2006. Huge multicolored cocoons, magical fetishes or spell-casting dolls? Judith Scott was in the habit of filching sundry objects to serve as a core for each of her creations. These she would wrap up in lengths of rope, string, cords and various fabrics, so as to totally mask the central body. A self-taught creator, Judith Scott felt free to indulge in a prodigiously inventive and anarchic technique. She attended the Creative Growth Art Center in Oakland , joining its artistic expression program.

Philippe Lespinasse is a photographer, documentary filmmaker for the French TV channels France 3 and Arte, and he teaches at the University of Bordeaux. He has directed many films about artists of “Art Brut” or “Art Singulier,” and he regularly collaborates with the Collection de l’Art Brut.

About Judith Scott

Judith Scott was born in Cincinnati, Ohio, USA. Born with Down’s syndrome, she lived with her family in her early years, together with her twin sister. At the age of seven she was removed from her family environment and placed in an institution. She then spent more than 35 years in establishments where she was subjected to conditions close to imprisonment.

In 1986, Judith Scott was taken in by Joyce, her twin sister, who obtained custody of her. One year later she joined the Creative Growth Art Center in Oakland, California, where she spontaneously engaged in creative work at the age of 44. These works bring to mind giant cocoons, magic-imbued mascots or spell-casting dolls.

Deaf and mute, Judith Scott makes sculptures that constitute her only means of expression: she hides all sorts of disparate objects – fans, umbrellas, and magazines – which form the heart of each creation. Having assembled them with string, she surrounds them and wraps them with yarn, cord and various fibers in such a way as to protect and conceal them completely. Free of the principles on which weaving, embroidery and sewing are traditionally based, Judith Scott invented her own technique. The threads of the resulting complex networks overlay each other or combine in a highly sophisticated manner.


Collection de l’Art Brut
Inaugurated in Lausanne in 1976, the Collection de l’Art Brut came into being thanks to the French artist Jean Dubuffet’s generous donation of works to the city. Since opening to the public in 1976, the Collection de l’Art Brut has continued to expand by: greatly enriching its collections, setting up benchmark monographic and thematic temporary exhibitions, publishing numerous books and documentary films, and collaborating on national and international levels. Today, the museum boasts over 63,000 works by 400 creators. Heir to a unique collection of international renown, the Collection de l’Art Brut is deeply committed to discovering, researching, and preserving this art on the fringes of mainstream artistic practices.

Creative Growth Art Center

Creative Growth Art Center serves adult artists with developmental, mental, and physical disabilities by providing a professional studio environment for artistic development, gallery exhibition and representation, and a social atmosphere among peers.



Photo: Myleen Hollero

Event Photos