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Why Art Can't Be Taught by James Elkins by Mind Map: Why Art Can
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Why Art Can't Be Taught by James Elkins


Core Curriculum

Theoretical Principles, Absolutism (Curriculum), Relativism (Child)


Art Examples, Advocates teaching average art in addition to famous work, Average students will learn more / Emphasizes existing qualities of students, Showing own work, Good, Know where instructor is coming from, See ability / expertise of instructor, Bad, Students may use to weed out instructors, Work may have no correlation with relevance of instruction, Pigeon-hole remarks and not take as seriously, Creates false sense of undersanding

Traditional Perceptions

Change / Improve Studnts, What would teaching be like if it did not mean to change or improve student art, but rather to appreciate it and help understand what they already do.

Art is Serious, Why can't art be made absent-mindedly? Paint w/ music blaring (a la Warhol = helped him not to think)? Not explore motifs (a la Duchamp)? Be a hobby?


Critiques, Critiques involve look, style & marketing problems, not detailed critiques of meaning / symbolism

Philosohpy, Story of capitalism & class conflict, Nature of objects & Things, Heidegger, Merleau-Ponty


Learning, Unless student believes she can learn when she wants to, cannot learn

Teaching, Only definable characteristic



History of Art Schools

Florentine Academy of Design

First public art academy, "To provide sepulcher for artists who might die penniless."

Informal setting

Urban campus, Spread out among existing buildings


Renaissance / Baroque, Life-drawing exercise, 1Draw model, omitting 1 arm, 2. Invent new arm position, Add, 3. Re-pose model to fit with corresponding arm, Allows comparison of invention to original, Made more difficult by inventing more of body, Perfect proportions, Correct proportion is not a skill but training. Everything difficult begins after proportion is no longer an issue, Hierarchies of Drawings, "First-Thought", thumbnail sketches, composition drawing, anatomic study, oil sketch, full-scale monochrome underpainting, Could more easily produce impeccably proportioned studies, No originality

French Acadamy, Based on medieval model, Apprentice, Journeyman, Master, Drawing Exercise, 3 Day-Long Sessions, 1. Drawing from drawings, 2. Drawing from casts, 3. Drawing from life, Thought Expirement, How many of you are motivated to paint the President?, In 17th, 18th cent. artists would have been happy or proud to receive commission from King/Queen, Response measures distance from society

Bauhaus, First-year course, 2D: Training the Senses, Trained senses and hand. Began with breathing exercises. mechanical activities, study of textures & materials, life drawing, 2D: Training the Emotions, Students given emotional themes & subjects and told to represent., 2D: Training the Mind, Analysis of Old Master paintings, color schemata, and basic formal oppositions., Perhaps most influential on modern art schools, Origin of 2D, 3D, 4D sequence, Why not re-arrange order?, Parallels to children's exercises advocated by Friedrich Froebel, inventor of kindergarten, Gave children random everyday objects and encouraged to draw, compare, pattern, investigate, and model., Believed learning best occurs in nonutilitarian interaction w/ materials, Nonverbal, ahistorical learning

Concept of Academic Art

Study of Baroque - 19th c. Painting, 1. Nature is defective & must be improved, 2. Compositions should be inventive, but unified & harmoniously organized, 3. There is a science of gesture & physiognomy to help artists communicate emotions, 4. Artists should research dress, ornament, religious narrative, and myth so their scenes are appropriate

Contemporary Ideas, Owe final allegiance to art history, Ex: Graffiti - Seems detached from academy & art world, but depends on many academic devices, i.e. chiaroscuro, perspective, glazing, composition, lettering


Hermann Grimm

Art is "altogether unteachable."


"I don't teach art; with that I cannot interfere; but I teach the scientific application of paint and brushes."

Oscar Wilde

"Education is an admirable thing, but it is well to remember from time to time that nothing that is worth knowing can be taught."

Art Community

Public Attitude Toward Artists


Gulf between art world & public


Bohemian, Progressive, "In 1913 at famous Armory Show, including Duchamp's Nude Descending Staircase and Matisse's Blue Nude, students from School of Art Inst. of Chicago, training in very conservative French academy tradition, staged a protest. Created effigy, "Henry Hairmattress" that they dragged and stabbed.

Why Teach Art?

Benefits Everyone / Universal

IF art community is different from other communities THEN what if art expresses only minority view of art community

Freedom of Expression

One of very few places where people can experiment more or less freely, with more or less anything

Learn how to "see"

More sensitive, alert to visual cues & subtle phenomena

Discussion on Studio Art Instruction

3 Themes, Meaning of academic freedom, What is teachable, Difference between visual art & other disciplines



Alternative Formats, Formal, Whole Group, Panelists not allowed to see work until student decides they are ready for it., Panelists must look at work for 10 minutes without speaking, Panelists can't see work until student has discussed it for 10 minutes, Panelists only allowed to ask questions, not pass judgments or tell stories, Nonverbal: Panelists have an hour to create a work in response to what they see, Small Group, One on One, Informal

More Control, Presentation Counts, Solitary time creating = primping in front of mirror before date, Rotating Note-Taker, Allows for reflection, addressing unresolved concerns, improving or correcting mistakes, Transcribes critique, a la Process Observer from psychology, Can't participate in discussion, Preserve anonymity?, Explicit Needs / Wants, Based on group therapy, Student-directed, "I feel ___ about this work." I would like to talk about ______.", Problematize, Student Point of View, Place work by someone else among yours. See how work is explained as one of your own., Don't identify yourself as artist. Ask them to guess., Ask someone else to stand in for you. Is reception different?, Present someone else's work that you don't know. Do best to present as own., Present your work you dislike as if it is your newest. See if you can convince people you like it., Present chronology of work backwards. Can you convince yourself/ your teachers that you're moving forward?, Borrow opening speech from someone else. Present that person's concerns as your own., Faculty Point of View, Try speaking as if you're a well-known artist. Don't necessarily pretend to be artist, just borrow language., Don't name the artist, but choose one you don't like and attempt to make convincing case for their sensibility., Say the opposite of what you mean, Talking, Avoid emotional outbursts (Take a break), Avoid unsupported claims, Chain of Questions strategy (Dialectical Questioning), Judgment, Statement made in course of critique, Reason, Justification given when asked, Assumption, Unexamined principle behind the reason and judgment, Ex: Unexamined assumptions in painting, Painting should have unity, It is helpful to use other painters as source, Sensuous paintings are good, Spontaneity is good, Paintings should be primarily concerned with space, Axiom, The 'endoxa', general truth that supports assumption. Axioms often have little to do with art, Special Critique: Exploration of Meaning, Only allowed to talk about meanings

Less Control, Free Association, Tell everyone to say whatever comes to mind, like conversation, Pros, Leads to unexpected insights, Cons, Resistance, not teaching or inappropriate response to art


Rhetorical Criteria, Help students get noticed, Ultimate Terms, Interesting, Moving, Inventive, Powerful, Authentic, Original, Compelling, Strong, Difficult, Gorgeous, Innovative, Stimulating, Wonderful, Beautiful, Excellent, 2 Different Ways of Talking about an Object, Descriptive, Translates into words, Objective, "That is a very bright green.", Subjective, "That looks like a bright green to me.", Judicative, Pass judgement, Change, Improve, Subjective, "I don't like that green.", Objective, "That green is not good.", Prescriptive, "Try blue, not green.", Suggestive, "Why so much green?", Often seen as instructors job, Imaginary critique with Rembrandt: -Wonderful paintings, Rembrandt. But you know, I like the backgrounds as much as the faces. What would happen if you left out the faces? -I'm interested in faces. -But I think you say a lot in your backgrounds. Very powerful. You could do without the faces. -I'm interested in faces. -Try more things. Get away from gluey paint. Try turpentine. More color - bright color. Bigger paintings. Smaller paintings. And sculptures! It won't hurt to experiment. That's why you're in school. -I like faces. You know, in five years you won't be doing this same stuff. No one works the same after school. Might as well change now. -Okay., No such thing as neutral observation or fact, "Is that a horse?", "Is THAT a horse?"

Self-contradicting opinion, "Recovery of Intentionality", In conversation, constantly guessing as to speaker's intentions, construct version of speaker in mind

Teacher, Silent, Allow students to drive critique, Referee, Mediates critique, Captain, Guides critique, Pharoah, Dominate critique

Student, Silent, Pro, Student input onfuses complicated situation, hampers honesty, reflects real-world gallery setting, Con, Can make critique more interesting, may lose relevance, Responding, Directing, Experience of talking to buyers, gallerists, etc.

Critical Orientations

M.H. Abrams

1. Mimetic, "Those grapes make me want to eat them.", Only copying nature matters

2. Pragmatic, "Your grapes make me happy.", Only audience matters

3. Expressive, Only artist matters, Internal made externam, "What do the grapes mean to you?"

4. Objective, Only the object matters, 2 Types, Formal Analysis, Colors & Shapes, Iconography, Symbols & Signs, Occasionally an avoidance strategy to divert from difficult topics


Too Long

Too Short


Seduction (Amorous)

Translation (Linguistic)

Collaborative Storytelling (Narrative)

Battle (Warlike)

Trial (Legal)