Herring, Adam 1967-

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Herring, Adam 1967-


Born 1967. Education: Yale University, Ph.D. 1999.


Office—Meadows School of the Arts, Southern Methodist University, P.O. Box 750356, Dallas, TX 75275-0356. E-mail—[email protected].


Southern Methodist University, Dallas, TX, associate professor of art history.


Frances Blanshard Prize, Yale University, 1999, for doctoral thesis; Vasari Award, Dallas Museum of Art, 2006, for Art and Writing in the Maya Cities, AD 600-800: A Poetics of Line; fellowships from Jacob R. Javits Foundation, Dumbarton Oaks, and National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH).


Art and Writing in the Maya Cities, AD 600-800: A Poetics of Line, Cambridge University Press (New York, NY), 2005.


Adam Herring's Art and Writing in the Maya Cities, AD 600-800: A Poetics of Line offers a new analysis of Mayan visual art. Accepted scholarship focuses on the deciphering of Mayan hieroglyphs and, consequently, views Mayan artwork as historical records of ruling dynasties. In contrast, Herring discerns a "poetics of line" in Mayan artworks that moves across the surfaces of decorated objects, from monumental temples and landscapes to smaller items such as ceramic vessels and sculptures. This poetic line, according to Herring, expresses the essence of the Mayan world view and suggests that "Maya visual work was preoccupied with the moment of physical awareness in cultural discourse, with eyes that scan, fingers that point, and bodies that move" as depicted through a calligraphic form. This linear form expresses Mayan understandings of spatial experience and social positioning; its flow along decorated objects, for example, mimics the movements of the eyes that glanced at these objects and the hands that touched them. As Herring explains, "the linear idiom exploited and thematized the character of sociability and spatial experience in the Maya audience hall." The calligraphic line, Herring states, "was freighted with multiple representational charges—of local recognitions of time and place, of an identity legible to outsiders, and of cultural satisfactions proper to its community of origin."

Throughout Art and Writing in the Maya Cities, AD 600-800, Herring focuses on the active experience of producing and responding to art. Describing the process of viewing an inscribed stone, he writes that the viewer "turn[s] away from human company and the play of open space in which it transpires. In this monumental structure designed for communal action and synchronized perceptions, the text posits a single body, a pair of attentive, scanning eyes, perhaps a place-holding finger, and a good voice like that inside the text itself." He writes of the "tensile spring inherent in the fiber brush" with which Mayan artists painted, and describes the process in sensual detail: "Pulling the brush, the hand and fingers move the instrument through the curve; the fingers gently roll the brush head through the stroke, twisting the fibers in contrary movements, slipping them sideways to fatten or narrow the ink trail." Indeed, Herring states, "the painter's gesture … represented and embodied the social energies of Maya civility."

Wide in scope, the book also offers closely detailed analyses. Analyzing the interaction of the calligraphic line with architectural forms, for example, Herring considers in detail the monumental sculptures of a particular city, Piedras Negras in Guatemala, a site that includes ruins of Mayan palaces, temple pyramids, handball courts, and plazas, as well as inscripted stelae, or stone markers.

Though Art Bulletin contributor Rosemary A. Joyce considered the book's arguments somewhat difficult to completely agree with, she described its thesis as "challenging" and "bold." Joyce observed that Herrin's study of Mayan art is "unlike any other published [text] to date," and as such, presents "an important opening for what could be an entirely new approach to Maya ‘art,’ one that sidesteps the temptations of iconographic interpretation and engages the experiential dimensions of producing and living with crafted things." Art and Writing in the Maya Cities, AD 600-800 received the 2006 Vasari Award from the Dallas Museum of Art, which recognizes works of original analysis, visual presentation, and significance in their specialized fields. In a statement on the museum's Web site announcing the award, Herring's book was described as a "groundbreaking" work that "innovatively melds archaeology and art history, the social sciences and the humanities."

Herring, an associate professor of art history at Southern Methodist University, earned his Ph.D. at Yale University, where his doctoral thesis won the Frances Blanshard Prize in 1999. He has received fellowships from the Jacob R. Javits Foundation, Dumbarton Oaks, and the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH).



Herring, Adam, Art and Writing in the Maya Cities, AD 600-800: A Poetics of Line, Cambridge University Press (New York, NY), 2005.


American Historical Review, December 1, 2006, Joseph W. Ball, review of Art and Writing in the Maya Cities, AD 600-800, p. 1567.

Americas: A Quarterly Review of Inter-American Cultural History, October 1, 2006, Stephen D. Houston, review of Art and Writing in the Maya Cities, AD 600-800, p. 301.

Art Bulletin, September 1, 2007, Rosemary A. Joyce, review of Art and Writing in the Maya Cities, AD 600-800, p. 591.

Choice: Current Reviews for Academic Libraries, July 1, 2006, K.A. Dixon, review of Art and Writing in the Maya Cities, AD 600-800, p. 2037.


Dallas Museum of Art Web site,http://dallasmuseumofart.org/ (July 22, 2008), "Dallas Museum of Art Presents 21st Annual Vasari Award to Adam Herring."

Southern Methodist University, Art History Department Web site,http://www.smu.edu/meadows/arthistory/ (July 22, 2008), Herring faculty profile.