Why Art cannot be taught

The book is a reflection of the American art historian, art critic and Professor of the Art Institute of Chicago James Elkins about whether it is possible to teach art, what problems exist in teaching and learning art, and most importantly — what can be changed for the better.

When I stood in the library in front of the Garage and Ad Marginem bookshelves in early autumn, picking out another pile of books to study, I thought that this book (in the old edition – with a pink and white cover) was about teaching art in general: its history and theory. The idea that the book might be about something completely different did not even occur to me.

In fact, this book is about art critics, but most importantly – about artists. Is it possible to teach a person to become an artist? To become a famous artist? Or to teach in the way that the person entered the history of mankind as one of the greatest? Spoiler: no, it won’t work. The author discusses this only in the third chapter called “Theories”, in which he comments on different existing opinions.

However, before the Chapter about learning art, there are two more – “Stories” and “Conversations”. In the first, Elkins describes how the teaching of art to artists (in a broad sense) and art theorists has changed throughout history: what institutions and disciplines existed, how the admission process was built, the training itself and the delivery of the final work. In “Conversations” the historical excursion is supplemented by modern experience on the part of the student and the teacher. Three important questions are raised here: the understanding of academic freedom, what exactly can be taught, and the difference between visual art and other disciplines.

The last two chapters are devoted to critical analysis. Criticism is one of the most important components of learning any specialty, and even more – artistic. The fourth chapter of the same name deals with oral criticism, its paradoxes and things that make oral criticism one of the most difficult to formulate and perceive. These are prejudices, a small amount of time, inability to express thoughts, incompetence, and much more. I would add that these problems are also relevant for written reviews of works.

In the final Chapter, Elkins makes recommendations for improving the analysis of student works. They are not very much (a total of five subchapters), they have different importance values. However, each of them qualitatively changes the important stage of work evaluation.

I think “Why Art cannot be taught” is useful primarily for teachers of any creative specialty: James Elkins gives good advice for correct and balanced reviews, critical reviews and evaluations of student works. The book is also useful to the student: it gives a greater understanding of what thoughts may be in the head of the Professor and the members of the Commission, and most importantly — to understand them. However, a person not from the educational process of the sphere of art or even a person from the art sphere will also find the book interesting: it does not contain complex terms, all the concepts are quite common and easy to Google. You can read it quickly, easily and it leaves a pleasant aftertaste with the desire to act and change the situation as much as you possibly can.

Photo source: Garage Museum website

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