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Why Art Cannot be Taught: A Handbook for Art Students
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Why Art Cannot be Taught: A Handbook for Art Students

3.91  ·  Rating Details  ·  727 Ratings  ·  25 Reviews
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.
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 isola
Paperback, 224 pages
Published May 17th 2001 by University of Illinois Press (first published 2001)
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(showing 1-30 of 2,046)
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Lee Piechocki
Jun 29, 2011 Lee Piechocki rated it really liked it
James Elkins is a good writer, but even a better speaker (I should say, I enjoy the way he speaks, If he were to actually be sized up for his speaking abilities, compared to great orators of the past, he would probably be categorized by many as an intellectual turd.) But I really like the way he speaks, I have had the opportunity on a few occasions and there are a few good interviews with him on - and this book of all the books of his I have read, is his most conversational. In f ...more
Apr 20, 2013 Courtney rated it did not like it
As an artist and art educator, I want to start by stating that I really wanted to enjoy this book. Some of its virtues include very interesting approaches to critiques that I would love to try: secretly placing someone else's piece among a series of your own, having someone else "play" you as the artist, including one work you absolutely hate, and/or emulating a famous artist without naming them. This was fascinating, although it took most of the book to get there.

In 2013, it's very difficult t
Theresa Anderson
Sep 30, 2012 Theresa Anderson rated it it was amazing
My favorite quote
"It is a simple, inescapable fact that looking at a life model is a charged experience. No matter how used to it you get- and studio instructors can persuade themselves, over the course of years, that models really are nothing but interesting furniture- it still possesses sexual and social overtones. The model is "objectified," used as an example (as in medical school or hospital rounds- and we might also think of prisoner-of-war camps), and his or her personality is erased or d
Jul 31, 2007 Rob rated it it was amazing
Shelves: art
James Elkins has proven to be the leading diagnostician of art world follies. This work has become a small classic among artists working in the academic side of studio arts and should be required reading for anyone considering a BFA or MFA in visual art. Based upon his experiences as a student and professor at The School of the Art Institute of Chicago, Elkins offers a wide array of anecdotes and analyses that will ring all too true to those of us who have waded the wild waters of art school. It ...more
May 05, 2012 Rachel rated it liked it
Shelves: art
I took forever to get into this. I think I got it as a (requested) Christmas gift years ago, but I just couldn't get into it.
As it was, I read the first 2/3 and then got bogged down. I finally finished it and I'm not sure how important that last 3rd really was.

I'm an art instructor at a community college, so the book isn't exactly aimed at me. It says on the cover it is for art students, meaning BFA or MFA students. However, even as an MFA student, the things referred to in the book, particular
Adam Fleming
Aug 18, 2014 Adam Fleming rated it really liked it
Elkins' premise, that art cannot be taught, is correct, but in his final assessment, he states that we have no other choice but to continue to instruct art students the same way.
I am grateful to Elkins for identifying the problem, but his lack of solution makes me wonder why he bothered to write a book.
Art cannot be taught, but art students can be coached. As a professional art coach, I can say enthusiastically that people can be coached to growth, even if they cannot be taught to be artists. Wh
Jason Cytacki
Dec 04, 2012 Jason Cytacki rated it it was amazing
Starting from a skeptical position, this excellent book describes the challenges and joys of teaching art. The author outlines the history of art education, noted that there has never been a "traditional" approach, methods and pedagogy involving teaching art has constantly evolved and changed with each era. Smartly, Mr. Elkins dispenses with some of the common perceptions about art school and lays out what is and what is not possible to teach in school. It also features a great section analyzing ...more
Jul 11, 2015 Allison rated it really liked it
Shelves: coursework
Textbook for my Teaching Practicum – jury's still out as to what I actually think, but it's an okay book? I dunno, might do another review after my second reading since I'm so ambivalent.
Apr 21, 2014 Zachary rated it it was ok
I always like this guy's books. I tend to agree with him, but I always walk away from them asking, "What was the point of that?". Then I get back to work.
Jun 19, 2007 K H rated it it was ok
Shelves: art
Nothing miraculous here. Some good history of the pedagogy of art, some interesting thought on styles of critique.
Jul 19, 2011 Carolyn rated it it was amazing
The discussion of the limitations of critique is especially helpful.
Kelly Myers
Aug 19, 2012 Kelly Myers rated it liked it
I get it.
Apr 18, 2016 Beverly rated it really liked it
Shelves: non-fiction, art, 2016
This is an unusual subject especially for an art teacher to tackle. The best chapter is the first, an informative historical review of art instruction that somewhat explains the state of things today. For the rest, Elkins has convinced me that art cannot be taught because no one understands what they're doing. This is not unknown in human endeavors. I used to feel sorry that I didn't get to go to art school, but not any more.
Jul 15, 2008 Hol added it
Recommends it for: people taking studio art classes
Yes, the title is intended to provoke. The chapter of this book that explores historical methods of teaching art was so stimulating that I almost had to lie down to recover--it explains so much of what you see in museums. Such as how in Renaissance academies, students studied the body partly to understand how emotions (humility, grief, etc.) are expressed in the human face and human gesture, and studied drapery etc. as objects, while in the modern period students studied the body as an object. M ...more
Mar 29, 2008 Gabriel rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: art students, art professors
Shelves: art
I enjoyed this book, but obviously felt it would have been more useful if I was a student, or a colleg professor. I thought the book provided a good discussion of the inability to teach and even define art. The book starts with a brief history of art education from medieval workshops to modern day colleges. Next is a section called Conversations, or Questions raised in art school. Next is Theories, or the lack thereof, about art education. The section called Critques explores the central method ...more
Anya Behn
Sep 09, 2010 Anya Behn rated it liked it
This book goes over the history of art schools/art education. His notes are not that interesting, and it gets a bit thick sometimes--I think he could have used a little more editing. However, it is very instructional about how art education has developed, especially since the Renaissance.

...I'm still reading it, but stalled due to my may classes. I'm taking art classes, and so it's a little weird to read a book about how 'art' can't be taught. I think you cannot be taught how to be an artist, bu
Apryl Anderson
Feb 08, 2012 Apryl Anderson rated it really liked it
I most appreciated Elkins' process of detailing the history of art schooling. It's very insightful to recognize that, no matter how we like to believe we're moving forward, so much of our training is bound in the past. Why can't art be taught? Because it's deeper than spoken language. Elkins showed that quite clearly in his exposés of The Critique. What I would like to see taught in the art schools is skilled workmanship and technique, the ability to communicate personal revelation, and most imp ...more
Adam Kovynia
Jan 13, 2015 Adam Kovynia rated it it was ok
didn't like it
Apr 03, 2008 Nick rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: art students
This book covers a rapid history of art education and then concentrates on the ambiguous experience of the critique and how to take more from this experience. Elkins brings up a very basic but profound idea: following judgement statements to their source as "axiomatic values" in order to understand the core values of one's community and oneself--by simply asking 'why, why, why'.
Jun 12, 2010 Lori rated it liked it
Perhaps unintentionally funny, but an especially good guide to navigating critiques, why is a critique like a legal process, or like a seduction, or why do they digress so much? Elkins uses verbatim recordings of crits. For everyone who has gone, or will go to art school.
Melissa Mitchell
Oct 09, 2012 Melissa Mitchell is currently reading it
I am having to read this book for my Internship at school and it's a very interesting book. Much more technical than I thought it would be. But for anyone interested in the art field I think it's well worth reading.
Nellie Mitchell
Apr 07, 2016 Nellie Mitchell rated it liked it
Started out fabulous. Loved the first half about the history of education. Lost me about half way. Too much analysis of critiques, not interesting, and not relevant to me.
There's a quote from John Baldessari that says: "It's essentially an idea that you can't teach Art, but if you're around artists you might pick up something."
Jan 21, 2009 William rated it it was amazing
An excellent prising apart of the portentous Art School system of the last twenty or thirty years.
Phil Lawrence
Nov 21, 2012 Phil Lawrence rated it it was amazing
Good inquiry into art, art talk and art making. The title should be read as a question
Nov 22, 2014 Lee marked it as to-read
Shelves: creative-pursuits, 1
Ryann Logan
Ryann Logan marked it as to-read
May 23, 2016
Erin marked it as to-read
May 22, 2016
Catherine Mar
Catherine Mar rated it really liked it
May 21, 2016
علي البطاح
علي البطاح rated it it was amazing
May 19, 2016
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James Elkins (1955 – present) is an art historian and art critic. He is E.C. Chadbourne Chair of art history, theory, and criticism at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. He also coordinates the Stone Summer Theory Institute, a short term school on contemporary art history based at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago.
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