James Elkins

James Elkins
The Art institute of Chicago · Department of Art History, Theory and Criticism

PhD, History of Art, MA, MFA

About

130
Publications
428,695
Reads
How we measure 'reads'
A 'read' is counted each time someone views a publication summary (such as the title, abstract, and list of authors), clicks on a figure, or views or downloads the full-text. Learn more
1,561
Citations
Introduction
I am an historian of art and science, with an interest in the history of optics, image processing, and visualization. I have a lot of free texts on www.jameselkins.com and academia.edu. Please don't request texts here: they are usually on those other sites. Note: I do not monitor this site; please email me directly through my website contact form, thanks.
Additional affiliations
September 1989 - present
School of the Art Institute of Chicago
Position
  • Professor (Full)
January 1989 - present
School of the Art Institute of Chicago
September 1988 - present
The Art institute of Chicago
Position
  • E.C. Chadbourne Chair
Education
September 1983 - May 1989
University of Chicago
Field of study
  • History of Art
September 1981 - May 1983
University of Chicago
Field of study
  • Art
September 1973 - May 1977
Cornell University
Field of study
  • English

Publications

Publications (130)
Article
Full-text available
From its North American beginnings in the late 1980s, its German beginnings in the 1970s, and its prehistory, going back to Derrida, Benjamin, and before, visual studies has taken as part of its mission the breaking of disciplinary boundaries. Visual studies has always pictured itself questioning conceptual domains and hegemonic identities, inhabit...
Article
Full-text available
On ne devrait plus avoir a presenter James Elkins, l’un des historiens de l’art les plus prolixes et les plus marquants de ces vingt dernieres annees. Pourtant l’homme n’est certainement pas aussi connu du lectorat francais que sa popularite internationale pourrait le laisser supposer. Professeur a la School of the Art Institute a Chicago depuis 19...
Article
Full-text available
English is used, how it is expected, how it is judged. I make a distinction between competence in speaking English, in reading English, and in writing English. It is common to have speaking competence in English. Competence in speaking and listening helps people attend international conferences, and hear and answer questions posed in English. Next...
Article
This is a fragment of a book I am working on, written in the first instance against Roland Barthes's Camera Lucida. My opening claim is that the ongoing influence of the book has not been exhausted by readings that dwell on its lack of controlled argument or on its few moments of prepositional clarity. I set out, therefore, to read as idiosyncratic...
Article
At first it looks like a nectarine, left to rot at the back of the refrigerator until it has half-sunk into the shelf (figure 1). It has some of the peach gloss and fuzz of a fruit and a fruit's liquid softness. There is a scar on the left where the stem once was. But then something goes wrong with the simile. Those spots on the surface are more li...
Article
This is a collaborative essay, intended to introduce a new concept to the writing of postwar art history. Richard Gregor has written about the history of Slovakian art in the 1950s and afterward, and he finds that misunderstandings and misinterpretations of art in western and eastern Europe have produced difficulties for understanding concepts like...
Book
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, h...
Book
Each of the five volumes in the Stone Art Theory Institutes series brings together a range of scholars who are not always directly familiar with one another’s work. The outcome of each of these convergences is an extensive and “unpredictable conversation” on knotty and provocative issues about art. This fifth and final volume in the series focuses...
Article
The extant Italian Renaissance treatises on perspective often mention its geometric foundation without making a rigorous connection between geometry and perspective practice. Renaissance texts are normally didactic manuals whose authors take it for granted that perspective is a vera scienza. Alberti mentions but does not record a proof for his cons...
Data
Full-text available
See English version.
Data
The "theory of the gaze" is the preeminent account of vision and visuality in the humanities. This essay surveys the principal sources for the theory in psychoanalysis, gender theory, and perspectival representation.
Book
Full-text available
This is an essay written for the artist elin o'Hara slavick. She chose objects, including some half-melted bottles, that had been exposed to the nuclear explosion at Hiroshima. She photographed the objects on cyanotype paper, producing ghostly blue images. This essay is partly about the kinds of radiation that were involved, from the first millisec...
Article
Each of the five volumes in the Stone Art Theory Institutes series-and the seminars on which they are based-brings together a range of scholars who are not always directly familiar with one another’s work. The outcome of each of these convergences is an extensive and “unpredictable conversation“ on knotty and provocative issues about art. This four...
Article
In his latest book, James Elkins offers a road map through the field of visual studies, describing its major concerns and its principal theoretical sources. Then, with the skill and insight that have marked his successful books on art and visuality, Elkins takes the reader down a side road where visual studies can become a more interesting place. W...
Article
Full-text available
Esse artigo analisa algumas das relações possíveis entre a história da arte e o estudo das imagens não arte ou “inexpressivas”, presentes sobretudo no campo científico. São considerados o modo como a história da arte aborda as imagens não arte para a explicação do uso da ciência pelos artistas, assim como o impacto de convenções estéticas na elabor...
Article
Garden history, unlike the history of painting, sculpture, and architecture, has no conceptual foundations. It lacks the elements of scholarly and critical consensus: a conventional set of interpretive methods, agreed-upon leading terms, ‘ruling metaphors,’ and descriptive protocols. Painting, for example, has a recurring set of critical problems,...
Chapter
Full-text available
This is an essay on a suggestive parallel between photographs of the Chinese torture and execution known as the "death by a thousand cuts," and the routine protocols of art history known as formal analysis and iconography. I attempt to demonstrate that art history's most fundamental, apparently neutral, preparatory exercises in seeing and analysis,...
Article
Each of the five volumes in the Stone Art Theory Institutes series, and the seminars on which they are based, brings together a range of scholars who are not always directly familiar with one another's work. The outcome of each of these convergences is an extensive and "unpredictable conversation" on knotty and provocative issues about art. This th...
Chapter
The essay is available here: http://www.scribd.com/doc/140532096/Iconoclasm-and-the-Sublime-Two-Implicit-Religious-Discourses-in-Art-History This is an essay about two otherwise unconnected discourses: the "postmodern sublime" and iconoclasm. Both are common in contemporary art criticism: the sublime is theorized by Jean-Francois Lyotard, Neil Hert...
Article
Full-text available
Art history has lost and rediscovered semiotics several times since the 1950s, and at the moment writers employ an eclectic mixture of theories derived mainly from Ferdinand de Saussure and Charles Sanders Peirce. Of the two, Peirce is possibly the more influential model, on account of his tripartite theory of iconic, indexical, and symbolic signs....
Chapter
All images in this essay are copyright as indicated. The author, James Elkins, takes all responsibility for copyright issues. In 2005, I was working at the University College Cork in Ireland. Visual studies, film studies, and art history were expanding, and the time seemed right for a university-wide center for the study of images. I was interested...
Book
Visual Cultures is the first study of the place of visuality and literacy in specific nations around the world, and includes authoritative, insightful essays on the value accorded to the visual and the verbal in Japan, Poland, China, Russia, Ireland, and Slovenia. The content is not only analytic, but also historical, tracing changes in the signifi...
Book
The “biennale culture” now determines much of the art world. Literature on the worldwide dissemination of art assumes nationalism and ethnic identity, but rarely analyzes it. At the same time there is extensive theorizing about globalization in political theory, cultural studies, postcolonial theory, political economy, sociology, and anthropology....
Article
James Elkins has shaped the discussion about how we—as artists, as art historians, or as outsiders—view art. He has not only revolutionized our thinking about the purpose of teaching art, but has also blazed trails in creating a means of communication between scientists, artists, and humanities scholars. In Six Stories from the End of Represent...
Article
The history of modern painting is conventionally told following a trajectory from European artists like Manet, Cézanne through Picasso and artistic styles ranging from expressionism, surrealism, cubism, and other avant-garde movements and stylistic trends on to abstract expressionism. Art historians all over the world share this conventional narrat...
Article
Ten Reasons Why E. H. Gombrich is not Connected to Art History This is a speculative essay on the place of E. H. Gombrich in art history. Gombrich is universally known, and still often studied at the undergraduate and graduate levels. He is indispensable for the historiography of the discipline. But at the same time, he is not often cited, and his...
Book
Full-text available
A book about seeing in science, engineering, natural history, and art. This is in copyright, but I found it posted several places on the internet, so even though it's still in copyright, I thought I'd post it here. I am currently working on a book that's a kind of sequel, except the new book will be on a much larger scale. It's called, tentative...
Chapter
It seems to me that the PhD in visual arts is inescapable: it is on the horizon. What is needed is an investigation into the conceptual shapes that the new degrees might take. The United States is well positioned to do this, and to become the place where such programs are rethought from the ground up. At least there’s a chance of doing this in the...
Article
Full-text available
This book is part of a promising new wave of scholarship. From the 1960s onward, writing on perspective was divided between what might roughly be called humanist interpretations and technical accounts. Humanist writing made use of structuralist, phenomenological, and psychoanalytic interpretations, and it has produced a line of texts from Hubert Da...
Book
Full-text available
A study of how images are produced and discussed across the university.
Book
Full-text available
This is the first three chapters of a book on image production and interpretation across the university.
Book
Full-text available
Chapter 4 - 6 of a book on visual practices in all university fields. In this excerpt: economics, medieval Irish language, and astronomy of accretion disks.
Book
Full-text available
Chapters 7 - 9 of a book on visual practices throughout the university. In this excerpt: 3-D simulations in legal practice; university intranet protection software; occupational therapy.
Book
Full-text available
Chapters 10 - 12 of a book on visual practices in all fields of the university. This excerpt: speech spectrographs, images of the galactic center, and restorative dentistry.
Book
Full-text available
Chapters 13-16 from a book on visual practices throughout the university. In this excerpt: archaeological graphics, geological mapmaking, medieval Irish manuscripts, and multispectral aerial surveying.
Article
This is a book about the kinds of human experience that images engender. It is a good, wandering, meditative book. Unfortunately it has completely the wrong title. First, thinking isn't really at issue. What Ron Burnett cares about is subjectivity, collectivity, sense of self, sense of community, links and networks and societies; for him images are...
Article
"Dívat se jinam a vidět přiliš mnoho" is an excerpt from my book The Object Stares Back: On the Nature of Seeing (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1996). This Czech version isn't an article, but an essay in a book, Vizuální Teorie, edited and translated by Ladislav Kesner, second edition (Prague: H&H, 2005), 351-66.
Article
The Journal of Aesthetic Education 38.4 (2004) 22-31 The PhD in visual arts is inescapable: it is on the horizon. In just a few years, there will be a number of such programs in the United States, and if the trend mirrors the expansion of MFAs after the mid-1960s, then in a few decades the PhD will be the consensus "terminal" degree for artists. Gi...
Article
I want to explore here the stark and unmendable gap between run-of-the-mill paintings like Mukho's, Laurent's, and Adams's, on the one hand, and the paintings that have found places in textbooks of twentieth-century art on the other. I have chosen three marine painters, but the pattern I have in mind recurs in many kinds of painting throughout the...
Article
Can contemporary art say anything about spirituality? John Updike calls modern art "a religion assembled from the fragments of our daily life," but does that mean that contemporary art is spiritual? What might it mean to say that the art you make expresses your spiritual belief? On the Strange Place of Religion in Contemporary Art explores the curi...
Article
Last year members of the editorial board of the journal of visual culture were asked for brief statements about the state of the discipline. My contribution, which follows, was framed, Borges-fashion, as the Preface to an imaginary book. In the months since I submitted the Preface, I have begun to think more seriously about actually writing such a...
Article
My point isn’t that references to relief perspective, anamorphosis, double images, and stereo pairs are inappropriate, but that Dalí’s practice diverged significantly from his sources and therefore calls for a separate, at times independent, analysis. The essays in this book sometimes acknowledge as much. On page 37, Peter Sutton remarks that Dalí’...
Article
Thomas Crow is one of the most exacting and vigilant of art historians, never prone to following received opinions, methods, or practices. His way of thinking has sometimes produced works that are exemplary in their circumspection and nuance; the theory of society and art embedded in the opening chapter of Modern Art in the Common Culture has yet t...
Article
What is art? The contributors to "Theories of Art Today" address the assertion that the term art no longer holds meaning. They explore a variety of issues including: aesthetic and institutional theories of art, feminist perspectives on the philosophy of art, the question of whether art is a cluster concept, and the relevance of tribal art to philos...
Article
This essay is an attempt to see how some of Galison's ideas and analyses look from the vantage of art history. If there's to be dialogue between the history of science and the history of art, it will be necessary to find historically recognizable senses for words like logic and homologous. I also propose how Galison's kinds of images might fit into...
Book
Full-text available
This book is an attempt to understand why people have started writing at such tremendous length on individual pictures. Before the 20th c., one of the longest texts on a single painting was Vasari's description of Leonardo's "Last Supper." In the last forty years it has become common for historians to write entire books on individual artworks. Wh...
Article
Most disciplines concerned with visual artifacts assume that close reading is universally to be desired: the more accurately objects are described, the more responsibly they can be interpreted. Close reading is said to provide a check on inadvertent projection and inappropriate theorizing, and it is thought to be an ideal that is not specific to an...
Article
New Literary History 27.2 (1996) 271-290 I'd like to ask a question of pictures, and the texts that get written about them. What does it mean, I'd like to know, that in the late twentieth century pictures have come to require so much more explanation than they have called for in any previous century? Why do art historians, art critics, and others i...
Article
A number of disciplines are showing new interest in the study of images. Although art history has the most developed critical and historiographic tools for interpreting images, art historians have not ventured far outside the domains of fine art and popular imagery. As a result, image studies in other disciplines are proceeding independently, witho...

Questions

Question (1)
Question
Anyone have any interesting stories of references about things that cannot be visualized, or where visualization is inadequate, or misleading? I'm interested in the limits of visualization, because so much of the literature is about creating visualizations, which are imagined as simply good -- always potentially useful, perhaps partial, but never fundamentally misguided, misleading, inadequate, or a priori impossible.

Network

Cited By