Cover for ELKINS: Why Art Cannot Be Taught: A Handbook for Art Students
Ebook Information

Why Art Cannot Be Taught

A Handbook for Art Students

In this smart survival guide for students and teachers -- the only book of its kind -- James Elkins examines the phenomenon of college-level art instruction, focusing particularly on the problematic practice of conducting critiques of student work

In this smart survival guide for students and teachers--the only book of its kind--James Elkins examines the "curious endeavor to teach the unteachable" that is generally known as college-level art instruction. This singular project is organized around a series of conflicting claims about art:"Art can be taught, but nobody knows quite how."

"Art can be taught, but it seems as if it can't be since so few students become outstanding artists."

"Art cannot be taught, but it can be fostered or helped along."

"Art cannot be taught or even nourished, but it is possible to teach right up to the beginnings of art so that students are ready to make art the moment they graduate."

"Great art cannot be taught, but more run-of-the-mill art can be."

Elkins traces the development (or invention) of the modern art school and considers how issues such as the question of core curriculum and the intellectual isolation of art schools affect the teaching and learning of art. He also addresses the phenomenon of art critiques as a microcosm for teaching art as a whole and dissects real-life critiques, highlighting presuppositions and dynamics that make them confusing and suggesting ways to make them more helpful.

Elkins's no-nonsense approach clears away the assumptions about art instruction that are not borne out by classroom practice. For example, he notes that despite much talk about instilling visual acuity and teaching technique, in practice neither teachers nor students behave as if those were their principal goals. He addresses the absurdity of pretending that sexual issues are absent from life-drawing classes and questions the practice of holding up great masters and masterpieces as models for students capable of producing only mediocre art. He also discusses types of art--including art that takes time to complete and art that isn't serious--that cannot be learned in studio art classes.

Why Art Cannot Be Taught is a response to Elkins's observation that "we know very little about what we do" in the art classroom. His incisive commentary illuminates the experience of learning art for those involved in it, while opening an intriguing window for those outside the discipline.

"Instead of proposing drastic changes in the way that art is instructed, Elkins asks that schools and art departments try to understand what they are already doing. . . . He advises students to use a chain of questions process to try to uncover the teachers' reasoning and unexamined assumptions. . . . Whether you're an artist, a teacher, an administrator, or a student, I encourage you to explore your own questions through Why Art Cannot Be Taught."--Teaching Artist Journal

"Original and timely. I don't know of any other book that addresses the issues of contemporary art teaching so convincingly. Elkins's bold analysis of the critique should be required reading for art teachers and students."--Judith K. Brodsky, Mason Gross School of the Arts, Rutgers University

"Elkins challenges all the comfortable myths that art schools run on: that art can be taught; that we know what we're doing when we try to teach art; that the class critiques which are the heart of art school teaching make some kind of sense. His dissection of art school practice is penetrating and witty--not just iconoclastic, but soundly based in serious philosophic discourse. The range of his scholarship is breathtaking."--Howard S. Becker, author of Art Worlds

James Elkins, a professor of art history, theory, and criticism at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, is the author of The Object Stares Back: On the Nature of Seeing, What Painting Is, and many other books.

To order online:

To order by phone:
(800) 621-2736 (USA/Canada)
(773) 702-7000 (International)

Related Titles

previous book next book
Painting the Gospel - Cover
Painting the Gospel

Black Public Art and Religion in Chicago

Kymberly N. Pinder

Journal of Aesthetic Education - Cover
Journal of Aesthetic Education

Edited by Pradeep Dhillon

Art History and Education - Cover
Art History and Education

Stephen Addiss and Mary Erickson

Arts Education in Action - Cover
Arts Education in Action

Collaborative Pedagogies for Social Justice

Edited by Sarah Travis, Jody Stokes-Casey, and Seoyeon Kim

New Media Futures - Cover
New Media Futures

The Rise of Women in the Digital Arts

Edited by Donna J. Cox, Ellen Sandor, and Janine Fron

Visual Arts Research - Cover
Visual Arts Research

Edited by Laura Hetrick and Jorge Lucero

African Art Reframed - Cover
African Art Reframed

Reflections and Dialogues on Museum Culture

Bennetta Jules-Rosette and J.R. Osborn

From Myth to Creation - Cover
From Myth to Creation

Art from Amazonian Ecuador

Dorothea S. Whitten and Norman E. Whitten Jr.

Sullivanesque - Cover

Urban Architecture and Ornamentation

Ronald E. Schmitt

Black Post-Blackness - Cover
Black Post-Blackness

The Black Arts Movement and Twenty-First-Century Aesthetics

Margo Natalie Crawford

Archibald Motley Jr. and Racial Reinvention - Cover
Archibald Motley Jr. and Racial Reinvention

The Old Negro in New Negro Art

Phoebe Wolfskill