Grey Room

Seurat’s Media, or a Matrix of Materialities

Carol Armstrong

Plate 5 from M.E. Chevreul, De la loi du contraste simultané des couleurs, et de l’assortiment des objets colorés, considéré d’après cette loi, 1839. Robert B. Haas Art LIbrary Special Collections, Yale University.


To query where Georges Seurat got his idea of the dot is to pose an unsolvable “riddle of origins.” Several solutions to this riddle have been proposed (e.g. Chevreul’s color theory, the halftone process, the autochrome plate), none of which are satisfactory on their own. Rather than securing a secure origin for Seurat’s dot, Armstrong argues that the question must be re-directed to consider not the history of single medium but a ‘matrix’ of modern media. Deploying a both spatial and temporal metaphor of warp and weft, Seurat’s dot is placed in a different lineage, one that goes forward to the present moment, situated in relation to the work of Craigie Horsfield, and then looks back, involving the different media of painting, tapestry, drawing, photography. Armstrong demonstrates how Seurat’s practice engages the materiality of a “matrixial” ground, exploring the interrelatedness of different techniques in contrast to a typically modernist notion of the medium, which focuses on the singularity of the picture plane and its material support. The consequences of this momentous shift from a medium-specific to a matrixial mode of practice, to work in the matrix, as opposed to on a plane, is operate in both a close-up, embodied and tactile as well as an optical, plural and generative mode and to undo the distinction between the handmade and the mechanical that is so deeply inscribed in the story of modern media.