Why Art Cannot Be Taught: A Handbook for Art Students
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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. This singular project is organized around a series of conflicting claims about art: Art can be taught, but nobody knows quite how. Art can be taught, but it seems as if it can't be since so few students become outstanding artists. Art cannot be taught, but it can be fostered or helped along. Art cannot be taught or even nourished, but it is possible to teach right up to the beginnings of art so that students are ready to make art the moment they graduate. Great art cannot be taught, but more run-of-the-mill art can be. 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 isolation of art schools affect the teaching and learning of art. art as a whole and dissects real-life critiques, highlighting presuppositions and dynamics that make them confusing and suggesting ways to make them more helpful. Elkins's no-nonsense approach clears away the assumptions about art instruction that are not borne out by classroom practice. For example, he notes that despite much talk about instilling visual acuity and teaching technique, in practice neither teachers nor students behave as if those were their principal goals. He addresses the absurdity of pretending that sexual issues are absent from life-drawing classes and questions the practice of holding up great masters and masterpieces as models for students capable of producing only mediocre art. He also discusses types of art - including art that takes time to complete and art that isn't serious - that cannot be learned in studio art classes. Why Art Cannot Be Taught is a response to Elkins's observation that we know very little about what we do in the art classroom. involved in it, while opening an intriguing window for those outside the discipline.
days no longer care about religious narratives or historical pageants or moralizing allegories, and they are not as fastidious about realism as the Old Masters were. Modernism and postmodern have certainly C O N V E R S A T I O N S ray, or thin section. Some German texts, written around the turn of the brought radical changes, but it wouldn’t be prudent to lose sight of the fact that the technique itself has also been lost, so that what happens, minute by minute, in the classroom is entirely
BAD TRANSLATIONS Seductions are only one kind of metaphor for critiques. Here are some others; each is useful in a limited way, though none is as generally applicable as the seduction model. 1. A critique can be imagined as a problem in translation, because for practical purposes the teacher may be speaking a different language from the student. Say a Netherlander speaks to a German, and they each know A R T only their own language. Each will understand a little of what the other says, but
installation art. Sometimes panelists interrupt the critique to tell stories about their own lives, and sometimes those stories are in belated response to stories proffered by the student. If you open your critique with a narrative about how difficult life has been for you in the last semester, the panelists may respond by being kinder about their criticism, and that in turn will meliorate your story. Panelists also T A U G H T initiate stories, though they are less commonly based on literary
the judgment, in order to elicit a reason. There are many ways to bring out reasons, but the best is just to behave like a two year old and ask “why”: — Why is that bad? — Well, because it starts out seriously, but then it ends up careless. Often this is where things end, both because the critique moves on to another topic, and because the speaker may not be aware of any further explanation. The judgment that has been made is this: The ﬁlm is too playful. 1. JUDGMENT T A U G H T It is possible
that can’t be the final term in a chain of questions, because it is not apparent why effort should be good. I suggested that effort might be moral, and he said perhaps that was it. But then his axiom would be 05.167-188_ELKINS.pmd 176 6/13/11, 3:01 PM ern artist to say. Another common assumption is that good art can hold our attention for more than a few moments. But if that is pressed, it sometimes turns out that the underlying axiom is that we should be entertained, and then the axiom