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Pictures & Tears: A History of People Who Have Cried in Front of Paintings

3.84  ·  Rating details ·  251 ratings  ·  34 reviews
Does art leave you cold? And is that what it's supposed to do? Or is a painting meant to move you to tears? Hemingway was reduced to tears in the midst of a drinking bout when a painting by James Thurber caught his eye. And what's bad about that? In Pictures and Tears, art historian James Elkins tells the story of paintings that have made people cry. Drawing upon anecdotes ...more
Paperback, 272 pages
Published February 23rd 2004 by Routledge (first published January 1st 2001)
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3.84  · 
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 ·  251 ratings  ·  34 reviews

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Jan 25, 2011 rated it really liked it
So, a book about people who have cried in front of different paintings throughout history? Sign me up please! I'd never heard of this writer before, but the unconventional treatment of art history was right up my alley. I love writing that explores the area between the academic (art/painting) and the non-academic (crying).

Though the author, Elkins, is a respected professor of art history, he was still able to remain open-minded to other ways of approaching art, never ruling out anything as 'inva
Mark B.
Mar 21, 2009 rated it it was amazing
This is my favorite of Elkins' books, and I'm a big fan. Every time I think that I have a new idea about art, I realize that Elkins has already written a whole book on the topic! Though I don't recall ever having cried in front of a painting myself, I have often been at the point of being overwhelmed. To this day, I get shivers every time I catch a glimpse of a Motherwell, and I don't particularly like Motherwells. That tells me that there's something beyond taste, or preference going on here, a ...more
Jul 18, 2015 rated it liked it
This is a book about people who have had strong emotional reactions to artworks. It tells a history of times and places when strong passions were expected, and contrasts them with the habits of the last hundred years. The book also has letters from people who have cried, and those who haven't or wouldn't.
That's the real power of Art, I think! The power to transcend our own self-interest, our solipsistic zoom-lens on life and relate to the world and each other with more integrity, more curiosity,
David Glenn Dixon
Washington City Paper
Arts & Entertainment : Book Review

Lonely Teardrops
By Glenn Dixon • May 24, 2002

The past decade has been a good one for revelatory little books of art writing that really shouldn't have to exist. Dave Hickey reminded the art world that it had stopped talking about beauty. David Batchelor examined the marginalization of color. And now, with "Pictures & Tears: A History of People Who Have Cried in Front of Paintings," art historian James Elkins finds his profession to b
Imane إيمان بلال
" When I cried in front of those paintings, I also did so in response to the painter’s courage, because I felt the painter…had been out on the edge, held it all together and made it work— and that may be the best explanation of what made me cry. "

Sincerely yours, Helen D.
miles honey
May 01, 2018 rated it really liked it
great engaging nonfiction is a little hard to come by in the realm of theory, but this book is an absolute joy. fascinating and easy to read—i can't walk around museums quite the same way anymore and i'm grateful for that.
May 27, 2017 rated it it was amazing
This book did some wonderful things to me. It dispelled philosophical dogmas. It validated vague feelings I’ve had about academia, especially about art history. And, most importantly, it connected me with the stories of fellow weepy art-lovers.

“Pictures and Tears” contains, among other gems, the letters and stories of thirty-odd people who have cried (or wanted to cry) in front of paintings. If you’re an art-lover or weepy person – especially if, like me, you’re both – go read it. I’m giving it
Oct 01, 2010 rated it really liked it
Shelves: art-history, emotion
Such a fascinating book on such a strange topic -- who on earth cries in front of paintings? Quite a lot of people, apparently, and for almost as many different reasons as there are paintings and viewers. It's very odd to see an art historian tackle the topic of emotion -- not just represented emotion, but the emotions of people responding to art -- so head-on; usually that's Just Not Done. (Elkins, in fact, spends a fair amount of time discussing why it's Just Not Done to bring emotion into aca ...more
Dec 21, 2011 marked it as abandoned
Shelves: art, oddly-specific
Okay I am finally kicking this off my "Currently reading" shelf because I returned this book to the library several months ago and I'm not getting it back anytime soon. "Abandoned," sadly.

So here we have an interesting book about people crying in front of paintings. It's been several months since I looked at this book, so I can't give any real specifics. I got the feeling that the author couldn't really find THAT much to say about the subject, but I can't say why now. There are some really cool
Ed Smiley
Apr 12, 2010 rated it really liked it
It is sort of a forbidden topic among art historians and aestheticians. Should one experience a rarefied aesthetic experience merely? Or can a painting or other work kick your ass, and leave you flabbergasted? This book addresses this embarrassing question.

Granted, a particular emotional or transcendental experience may not have a permanent and objective significance that says all about a work of art for all time. True, art is a much more complex topic than just getting weepy. But isn't art also
Aug 29, 2007 rated it it was amazing
This is a great book. My eyes have been opened to the true power of art. (it really is documentary-ish, its not a novel) :)
Oct 28, 2007 rated it really liked it
It is nice to read Elkins' writing. He doesn't address painting analytically or literally, but intuitively and slowly. He isn't quick to interpret or lecture, either. His writing is a joy to read.
Abe Something
Sep 16, 2013 rated it really liked it
I enjoyed Elkins' attempt to decode what moves humans to tears when viewing paintings specifically. Paintings do not move, they do not always have immediately clear stories to tell, they are silent - yet they have the power to move us to tears. Well, they used to have that power, or at least they had more power in the past. Elkins traces our emotional engagement with paintings as best he can and attempts to answer why it is that we are far less likely to cry before a painting in the present day. ...more
Dec 14, 2017 rated it it was amazing
One of my all-time favorite books about art:

Have you ever been moved to tears by a painting?

There is a wonderful letter, in James Elkins' Pictures and Tears, about museum goers looking at a landscape painting in Japan. The lady who wrote the letter to Elkins was in Tokyo as part of an Andy Warhol exhibition. Unable to speak the language and perhaps not all that knowledgeable about the culture, it had to be based on some kind of misunderstanding that she came to believe that the painting of a wat
Mar 20, 2019 rated it it was ok
An interesting topic, and some scattered interesting thoughts here as well, but unfortunately the author is (despite his best efforts not to) too focused in persuading towards a theory (or more than one) about paintings and tears. He is unable to make the book pull together. I find that his most interesting sections are the ones on Rothko and the tension between his desire to be a painter who calls for strong emotions and the time he lived in. The descriptions of Caspar David Friedrich's paintin ...more
Oct 08, 2018 rated it really liked it
I picked this up because it seemed like a hilarious concept for a book, but was surprised at how beautifully written and accessible it is for an art historical critique. The Rothko chapter was the highlight for me - some of the other chapters didn't really say much about anything, but crying is such a vast topic and I appreciate Elkins for trying to come at it at different angles.
Paul Darby
Master Artist

Very good study of accomplished master artists that invoke emotion in their work. Mindfulness of the viewer can bring tears.
Sep 11, 2017 rated it it was ok
Badly researched and intensely pessimistic.
May 09, 2017 rated it did not like it
Raises many interesting questions and fails to answer them.
Oct 15, 2012 rated it it was ok
Shelves: 2012
Hmmmm...what to say. Thus book was mentioned in Alexander McCall's Smith 44 Scotland Street Series book "The Imporance of Being Seven" in reference to Antonia's emotional reaction to beauty when she and Angus and Domenica take a vacation together to Italy. Hmmm...silly me! This book was not available through the library system (clue 1) and no longer in print (clue 2) and I still bought it through the secondary market and spent time reading it. It is hard to imagine that someone wrote a 200 page ...more
Jul 21, 2014 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A History of People who have cried in front of paintings. James Elkins is a professor at the Art Institute of Chicago and his observations on the emotional experience of art are rewarding and fresh. The first chapter describes the Rothko's Chapel in Houston Texas so well that it made me add viewing that to my personal bucket list.

"...I am still drawn to pictures of places that seem isolated or rarely visited, to objects that would be overlooked, and to shapes and colors that would normally go u
Giovanni Garcia-Fenech
Nov 04, 2016 rated it liked it
Shelves: art
The topic is fascinating, and when Elkins talks about specific works of art he is great. Unfortunately, when he talks about emotions he doesn't say much and he repeats his few points insufferably; a good editor would have trimmed this book by a quarter. That said, Elkins' position that we are poorer for having forgotten how to engage with paintings emotionally - and the role that museums and art historians play in this development - will stay with you and affect the way you look at art in the fu ...more
May 16, 2015 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Elkins spends most his time finding his feet. In The Object Stares Back, the generosity of Elkins' voice aids in translating dense thoughts on sight. Here, that voice stalls, never leaving the blather of conversation. There is this revelation: in tears, we witness ourselves.
May 18, 2012 rated it it was amazing
Moving account of art observations.
Sep 07, 2009 marked it as to-read
To read, even with the somewhat unfortunate sub-title. Elkins is good, taken with a grain of salt.
Sep 15, 2011 rated it really liked it
I'll have to think further about this one. It was far more interesting than I expected.
Aug 12, 2016 rated it it was ok
the idea of spending 208 pages with this guy is unbearable
Georgia Guthrie
May 29, 2008 rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: Jen
This was a great book investigating pictures (fine art) that have elicited emotion from people - which is what they are supposed to do, right? Easy to read, but very interesting and substantial.
Josephine Wallace
Mar 07, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Have read and re-read. Love it.
Penny Mcelroy
Jul 18, 2008 marked it as to-read
Started it a year ago and loved it but put it down. Trying again this summer...
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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.