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Why Art Cannot Be Taught: A Handbook for Art Students

by James Elkins

Buy the book: James Elkins. Why Art Cannot Be Taught: A Handbook for Art Students

Release Date: June, 2001

Edition: Paperback


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Buy the book: James Elkins. Why Art Cannot Be Taught: A Handbook for Art Students

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 barely engage in the issues of making Studio Art much beyond the dilettante level. Elkins makes a very fine point of emphasis on what is either impractical or too obscure to teach about art in the general curriculum of both classroom enviroments-i.e.-such things as art that uses obscure techniques, extremely radical and/or conservative methods. He deals with that rarely mentioned art class phenomenon- "the critque"- where the student presents thier work to the class to be analyized. Elkins illuminates 'The critque' of art schools (and studio art departments) in a manner that should deal with every sort of postive and negative experience that could be siphoned from such an ordeal.

Essentially the heart of "Why Art Cannot be Taught" is to illuminate what works and what makes 'sense' to teach in the pedantic school environment about art. Elkin's thesis ("that art cannot be taught") is a descriptive interpretation of the reality that art education like 'true art', the 100%creative stuff, is something unique and irrational that can't be easily duplicated at the whim of educators. A must for anyone that has interest in the peculiarities of being a student of the visual arts!

From Amazon.com

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.

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