In a wide-ranging argument moving from Sumerian demons to Lucian Freud, from Syriac prayer books to John Carpenter's film The Thing, this book explores the ways the body has been represented through time. A response to the vertiginous increase in writings on bodily representations, it attempts to form a single coherent account of the possible forms of representation of the body. This work brings together concerns, images, and concepts from a wide range of perspectives: art history and criticism, the history (...) and philosophy of medicine, the history of race, phenomenological and post-phenomenological thought, studies of feminism and pornography, and the new interest in visual studies. Yet it is less a philosopher's look at history or a historian's foray into philosophy than a practical and critical look at the current constellation of art practices. Above all, it is intended to be of immediate use in the conceptualization and production of visual art and its history. (shrink)
Issues discussed include concepts such as "image" and "picture" in and outside the West; semiotics; whether images are products of discourse; religious meanings; and the ethics of viewing"--Provided by publisher.
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 Representation , Elkins weaves stories about recent images from painting, photography, physics, astrophysics, and microscopy. These images, regardless of origin, all fail as representations: they are blurry, (...) dark, pixellated, or otherwise unclear. In these opaque images, Elkins finds an opportunity to create stories that speak simultaneously to artists and to scientists, and to open both those fields to those of us who have little purchase in either. Regarding each image through the lens of the discipline that produced it, Elkins simultaneously affirms the unique structure of each way of viewing the world and brings those views together into a vibrant conversation. (shrink)
How do psychoanalytic, semiotic, deconstructive, and other interpretations represent works of art? What can they see, and what must they miss? In _Our Beautiful, Dry, and Distant Texts_, Elkins suggests that the philosophic problems posed by these questions are essentially insuperable because philosophy makes demands of visual artifacts that they can answer only by becoming mirror images of philosophic discourse. Elkins argues that writing is what art historians produce, and, whether such writing is a transparent vehicle for the transmission of (...) facts or an embattled forum for the rehearsal of institutional relations and constructions of history, it is an expressive medium, with the capacity for emotion and reflection. Therefore, it needs to be taken seriously for its own sake: it is the testament of art history and of individual historians, and it is only weakened and slighted by versions of history that imagine it either as uncontrolled dissemination or objective discovery and reporting. Elkins's investigation is not a prescription for opening art history to new influences or for focusing it on particular problems. It is a plea for circumspection in the entire endeavor of trying to force images into words, and in the curious vocation of writing the history of art. (shrink)
: 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 larger classifications of images known to the history of art.
As visual art becomes more international, ways of writing about art become more uniform. This essay proposes that two disciplines concerned with contemporary visual art, art criticism and art theory, are on the verge of being effectively homogeneous around the world. They share concepts, artists, artworks, institutions, and bibliographic references. For comparison, I consider two other fields that may also be increasingly uniform: studio art instruction and the novel. The last, in particular, is the subject of a large literature; critics (...) and historians debate whether contemporary global novels are becoming more self-similar if not more predictable. The literature on the novel allows me to conclude that it is likely writing on art is following the same tendency. (shrink)
The theories I have outlined suggest that by displacing but not excluding theory, art historical practice at once grounds itself in empiricism and implies an acceptance of theory’s claim that it cannot be so grounded. But beyond descriptions like this, the theories are not a helpful way to understand practice because they cannot account for its persistence except by pointing to its transgressions and entanglements in self-contradiction. Nor does it help to say, pace Steven Knapp, Walter Benn Michaels, and Stanley (...) Fish, that strong theory can have no consequences, because the reason theory has no consequences in this instance is not the impossibility of theory’s transcendence , but a combination of the conventions, desires, and beliefs of practicing historians.14 Theoretical approaches must bypass the concerns of practice because practice has no position which can be argued alongside theory’s positions. There are two reasons why a “Defense of Empiricism in Art History” has not been written. First, art historical practice does not incorporate even a local or heuristic theory to explain or discuss itself. Second, its “position” is not a latent theory, waiting to be eloquently stated, but something which is presupposed in a vague and variable manner by the art historical texts themselves. Art historical practice, for example, has an objectivist intention: it takes itself to be “a science, with definite principles and techniques,” which can exclude theory and generate texts by appealing only to previous nontheoretical texts and to the facts.15 This intention is rarely stated, exasperatingly slippery to formulate clearly, and even incoherent when it is applied to existing texts; but this is so precisely because it works by not being included in the texts. If some version of it were stated at the outset of a monograph, it would cast doubt on the entire enterprise and lead the reader to conclude incorrectly that practice is dependent on theory, and uncertain theory at that. In its unstated form, the objectivist intention allows narrative practice to continue unimpeded. James Elkins is a doctoral candidate at the University of Chicago. This article is from a work in progress concerned with the influence of writing conventions on the history of art. (shrink)
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 fourth volume in the series, _Beyond the Aesthetic and the Anti-Aesthetic_, focuses on questions revolving around the concepts of the aesthetic, the anti-aesthetic, and the political. (...) The book is about the fact that now, almost thirty years after Hal Foster defined the anti-aesthetic, there is still no viable alternative to the dichotomy between aesthetics and anti- or non-aesthetic art. The impasse is made more difficult by the proliferation of identity politics, and it is made less negotiable by the hegemony of anti-aesthetics in academic discourse on art. The central question of this book is whether artists and academicians are free of this choice in practice, in pedagogy, and in theory. The contributors are Stéphanie Benzaquen, J. M. Bernstein, Karen Busk-Jepsen, Luis Camnitzer, Diarmuid Costello, Joana Cunha Leal, Angela Dimitrakaki, Alexander Dumbadze, T. Brandon Evans, Geng Youzhuang, Boris Groys, Beáta Hock, Gordon Hughes, Michael Kelly, Grant Kester, Meredith Kooi, Cary Levine, Sunil Manghani, William Mazzarella, Justin McKeown, Andrew McNamara, Eve Meltzer, Nadja Millner-Larsen, Maria Filomena Molder, Carrie Noland, Gary Peters, Aaron Richmond, Lauren Ross, Toni Ross, Eva Schürmann, Gregory Sholette, Noah Simblist, Jon Simons, Robert Storr, Martin Sundberg, Timotheus Vermeulen, and Rebecca Zorach. (shrink)
Alchemy has always had its ferocious defenders, and a small minority of artists remain interested in alchemical meanings and substances. In this essay I will suggest two reasons why alchemy is marginal to current visual art, and two more reasons why alchemical thinking remains absolutely central. Briefly: alchemy is irrelevant because (1) it is has been a minority interest from early modernism to the present, and therefore (2) it is outside the principal conversations about modernism and postmodernism; but alchemy is (...) central because (3) it provides the best language to explain the fascination of oil paint, and (4) it is one of the best models for understanding the contemporary aversion to full logical or rational sense. (shrink)
Certain artworks appear to have multiple meanings that are also contradictory. In some instances they have attracted so much attention that they are effectively out of the reach of individual monographs. These artworks are monstrous.One reason paintings may become monstrous is that they make unexpected use of ambiguation. Modern and postmodern works of all sorts are understood to be potentially ambiguous ab ovo, but earlier--Renaissance and Baroque--works were constrained to declare relatively stable primary meanings. An older work may have many (...) "layers" of meaning, but it is normally expected to declare its principal message or subject matter, together with its allegiance to one idea or theme. Contemporary historical interpretation expects those stable starting meanings, even as it relishes the exfoliating ambiguities that may come afterward. So when the interpretive apparatus of art history runs up against premodern paintings that intentionally work against unambiguous primary meanings, it can generate a potentially incoherent literature.Some of the most monstrous pictures are Leonardo's Last Supper, Michelangelo's Sistine Ceiling, Watteau's fête galante paintings, Botticelli's Primavera, and Giorgione's Tempesta. The interpretive trichotomy of "Subject," "Not-Subject," and "Anti-Subject" is employed to talk about the ambiguity and polysemy of these monstrous works.This interpretive trichotomy helps order unruly accounts of the most complex artworks. In so doing it illuminates not only some monstrous pictures but a general area of historical interpretation: how to speak of the meaning of a created work in a way that does justice to its complexity and internal tensions. (shrink)