Why Are Our Pictures Puzzles?

Why Are Our Pictures Puzzles?

by James Elkins
     
 

Elkins argues that the intricate meanings that are assigned to pictures are less a matter of insight than a symptom of our culture - a kind of excessive desire for understanding and a demand for clear solutions.See more details below

Overview

Elkins argues that the intricate meanings that are assigned to pictures are less a matter of insight than a symptom of our culture - a kind of excessive desire for understanding and a demand for clear solutions.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Plato shrewdly noticed that a painting loses its liveliness the moment the viewer confronts its "most majestic silence." In this book, Elkins shows how "dire anxiety in the face of pictures" has induced a crisis in recent art criticism. Specialists, compelled to interpret and reinterpret paintings in search of puzzles, ambiguities and hidden meanings, have generated reams of excessive and esoteric scholarship: "Their theories are the inflammation that results from irritating the wound instead of letting it alone so it can heal." Some of his claims--that art historians, who "are attracted by oddities, mistakes [and] idiosyncrasies" seek out, and themselves enact, "thematized self-awareness"--have intuitive appeal, holding a mirror up to a culture unaware of its own fascinations. Less convincing is the insistence that critical energy itself--expended on "hypericons" such as the Mona Lisa, School of Athens and the Sistine Ceiling--is a symptom of illness, hopelessly engulfed in a bottomless well of bibliographies and indexes. When Elkins turns to praise fellow workers in his field from Leo Steinberg and Michael Fried to Jacques Derrida and Salvador Dal , however, he lends optimism ("An engaged imagination is finally what compels conviction") to an account otherwise bordering on the cynical. Cogent, conversational and lucid, this book provides a useful, nuanced understanding of what ordinary viewers today share with "the discipline [that] thrives on the pleasure of problems well solved." 76 plates. (Apr.)

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780203011652
Publisher:
Taylor & Francis, Inc.
Publication date:
01/28/1999
Sold by:
Barnes & Noble
Format:
NOOK Book
File size:
8 MB

Meet the Author

James Elkins is Professor of Art History, Theory and Criticism at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. He is the author of many books, including What Painting Is (Routledge, 1998) and The Object Stares Back: On the Nature of Seeing (1996).

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