“Farewell to Visual Studies”
Tuesday, November 15
Hanes Auditorium, Hanes Art Center
James Elkins is the E.C. Chadbourne Professor in the Department of Art History, Theory, and Criticism at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. As a student he studied at the University of Chicago where he first earned a graduate degree in painting, and then switched to earn a PhD in art history.
Dr. Elkins’ writing focuses on the intersection between the study and practice of art as he explores the history and theory of images. Some of his books are exclusively on fine art (What Painting Is and Why Are Our Pictures Puzzles?, for example). Others include scientific and non-art images, writing systems, and archaeology (e.g. The Domain of Images and On Pictures and the Words That Fail Them), and some are about natural history (How to Use Your Eyes).
Elkins’ talk at UNC will be titled “Farewell to Visual Studies.” In it, he will explore the rapid growth of visual studies as an intellectual field at colleges and universities throughout the world. Visual studies have at least four different forms in North America and the UK, in Scandinavia and German-speaking countries, in Latin America, and in China and Taiwan. However, despite its range, one has to wonder: are visual studies really asking the most interesting questions? The discipline has not fulfilled its initial promise as a means to study visuality and visual practices of all sorts, and it has not consolidated a common set of purposes or methods. Why look only at the same handful of theorists? Why exclude non-Western art or scientific images? Elkins will survey the original purposes of the field and its current condition, and will suggest several reasons why it may be time to say farewell to visual studies.
To find out more about James Elkins’ thoughts on visual studies as well as his broader body of work, take a look at his many books in the library’s online catalog. His many publications can make it difficult to tell where to start, so here are a few recommendations:
Visual Studies: A Skeptical Introduction. New York: Routledge, 2003.
What Happened to Art Criticism? Chicago, Ill.: Prickly Paradigm, 2003.
On the Strange Place of Religion in Contemporary Art. New York: Routledge, 2004.
Pictures & Tears: A History of People Who Have Cried in Front of Paintings. London: Routledge, 2001.
Pictures of the Body: Pain and Metamorphosis. Stanford, Calif.: Stanford University Press, 1999.
The Object Stares Back: On the Nature of Seeing. New York: Simon & Schuster, 1996.
– Laura Fravel