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Paperback Why Art Cannot Be Taught: A Handbook for Art Students Book

ISBN: 0252069501

ISBN13: 9780252069505

Why Art Cannot Be Taught: A Handbook for Art Students

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Book Overview

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."...

Customer Reviews

6 ratings

A Book of We Don’t Know

After 2000 years of art instruction, covered in this book, the author James Elkins concludes that art of all types cannot be taught. His position is one of classic pessimism; that is, we don’t know enough about anything, much less the complex area of art, to make a good judgement. Thus, no judgement can be made at all. I think he is partially, but not totally, right. In life drawing, in more ancient times, the human body and its proportions were thought to be sacred , or a part of the divine. Today that is a dead idea. Thus, life drawing is either ignored or if it is taught it has been gutted of its essence — the capture of the divine. Students now draw living models as if they were plaster forms. The life has been edited out of them by modern philosophy. I think this much is true, and the author holds it to be true in many areas of art. The essence of life and the “divine” has been crushed out of art and what remains is something much less than it was in the Renaissance. The author then spends a lot of time on critiques. While reading the book I did not get it. Why is Elkins spending so much time on how the paintings or sculptures etc, are judged and a lot of time looking into who is doing the judging? What about judicative and descriptive terms from rhetoric? How important are they in teaching art? It seemed detailed and interesting, but an almost useless discussion when it came to teaching art. I was wrong. Right after reading Why Art Cannot Be Taught, I read After Modern Art 1945–2000. After Modern Art did not say it directly, but the history it set forth made it very clear, the Art Critics are more important than the artists. Who chose which painters, sculptors, and other artists became the leaders in art? The critics and the art museums. If the critics picked someone out as a pioneer in art the museums would sponsor showings which would attract more critics and so forth. The opposite also occurred when the museums picked up an artist for an important show that attracted critics who wrote about the artists or the art movement and zoom off that movement or person went. No one artist started conceptualism, or land art, or photo realism, or abstract expressionism, or anything else. The artists act by creating something, an object or perhaps an idea, then it sits there and has zero impact UNLESS a critic or a museum says something about it or shows it to people. Then art publications pick up the baton and run with it, dragging the avant-garde with them. Suddenly, the art work is worth millions and driving philosophers to reexamine other artists and art works to see if they measure up to the “new”. And it must always be NEW. If an artwork isn’t new it isn’t going to be noticed by the critics so it will wither and evaporate along with its ideas. For some reason the book ignores certain facts about teaching. Teaching will eventually involve measuring. The student must be measured against what has been taught, unless there is nothing at the end of the teaching session except “nice to meet you.” If a degree is to be awarded, a measurement must be made. Either against other classmates, or former students, or a set standard. Can art be measured? Well, art information can be measured. Who was Monet? When did he live? What is his style of art named? And so forth. What type of paint is this? What kind of chisel is this and what kind of carving mark is made with it? These are objective facts that others agree on and thus, can be taught. Does it teach you to draw and paint? No. But it doesn’t hurt to know what you are talking about. You can also teach hand-eye coordination to people, at least to a point. You can teach basketball to a person, but you can’t expect all your students to make the NBA. No matter how much teaching is done, eventually the DNA takes over and the person becomes great, or near-great, or average or something else. With intense training, the normal person becomes average, that

Recovering MFA Survivor

As a recovering survivor of an MFA program I can wholly relate to Elkins' criticisms about the failure of critiques to shape art and artists. It is poignant that Elkins is unable to offer up a solution.

to be read BEFORE entering Art School

this book is not for current art students, or graduates (it's simply too late for you to read this) considering the expensive and time consuming path of art training at the University level ? then i recommend reading (or even just skimming) "Why Art Cannot Be Taught : A HANDBOOK FOR ART STUDENTS" not only because it gives a clear overview of the evolution of the methods of passing craftsmanship in the fine arts through (European) history, but because you'll see that picking a few art classes is probably going to serve you far better than undertaking a full course of study (and the stories of "classroom psychodrama", and students having to explain and defend their work was easily worth the price of the book, IMHO)

QUESTION - Visual Arts "different" as an academic pursuit?!

The answer: I think so. The author changed my way of thinking about the subject of what is plausible in arts education in our time. The apprearance of total artistic freedom from judgement as formulated by postmodernists, yet the intrinsic nature of how the academy/school affects an artist, is seriously examined by Elkins. This book is amongst the first to pragmatically question some of our common misunderstandings about the methodology involved in teaching the visual arts. The reason for this maybe due in part to modernist and postmodernist intellectualizing of art (e.g.-the endless pages of ink spilled in history books about content free Minimalist paintings and Conceptual Art). Elkins really does an marvelous job at collecting the evidence that studio art teaching and learning is fundamentally different in goals from more conventional subjects such as the sciences, languages and even music...yet, artists should have a somewhat rounded education. To the authors credit, the book avoids the idealistic view of the arts, dispenses with the RomanticEra cliches of " the gifted talent" or "starving artist" or "outsider art" and deals with THE pragmatic reality of art instruction. Elkins' surveys are about the historical roots of art instruction: the Medieval workshops, the Renaissance guilds,the Baroque academies, and the 20th c. Bauhaus School are compared and contrasted with one another. THIS comparison of instruction models is EXCELLENT! The assumed historical 'reality' of the types of artists each system was capable of producing serves as a spring board for discussions on how philosophical discourse influences the instruction model. The book addresses the question of "what body of knowledge is central to the education of an artist?" Is it life drawing, technical and mechanical skills or is it a selected reading and immersion in the liberal arts(i.e.- should an artist have a classical education w/ emphasis on Greek literature -or- postmodernist and shifting in emphasis related to an artist's native culture?_) Elkin's book fully illustrates the very real world dilemna that students interested in the visual arts face when choosing between "art schools" and small "Liberal arts colleges." "Art schools" tend to only be interested in art, with a myriad of opportunities to be exposed to the art world, with little if any exposure to core general education courses. Paradoxically, the art schools are also places where one is likely to find the latest art theory in deployment despite an 'art school'student populace that MAY NOT have the educational background to engage in meaningful discussion with instructors. The situation is the exact inverse with students at "liberal arts colleges" (and the university in general) where the student is academically armed, yet, is enrolled in significantly less demanding studio courses. "Liberal Arts colleges" and art departments of universities,while providing excellant general education for an art student -most bar

all art students and profs should have to read this

The author details art instruction through the ages and discusses the question asked in the title. Art and artists would be so much better thought of by society, and art istself would improve, if the ideas in this book were taken seriously. It is a DEEP book, not for casual reading.

Insider Conversation

Chatty and irresistable, rather than being the harsh polemic that the title might suggest, this volume is a multifaceted discussion of the issues involved in teaching and studying art in a studio environment. Anyone who has ever lived through a studio critique will find the book hard to put down. Like Elkin's earlier work, "What Painting Is," it will make any art-student readers wish that they could study with him at the Art Institute of Chicago.Despite the provocative title, Elkins has very little interest in transforming arts education. Rather, he wants to point to both the virtues and the pitfalls of critique-based evaluation, and to get both teachers and students to appreciate just what a mysterious and irrational process it is to attempt to teach/learn the studio arts.The author is an insider speaking candidly for other insiders -- the audience for this valuable and intelligent essay may not be huge, but within that group, it will stimulate many electrifying conversations.
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