James Elkins

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James Elkins (1955) is an American art historian and art critic. He teaches art history, theory, and criticism at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. His writing focuses on the history and theory of images in art, science, and nature. Some of his books are exclusively on fine art (What Painting Is, Why Are Our Pictures Puzzles?). Others include scientific and non-art images, writing systems, and archaeology (The Domain of Images, On Pictures and the Words That Fail Them), and some are about natural history (How to Use Your Eyes). His most recent books are What Photography Is, written against Roland Barthes's Camera Lucida, and Art Critiques: A Guide. [1]


  • The Poetics of Perspective, Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1994.
  • The Object Stares Back: On the Nature of Seeing, New York: Simon and Schuster, 1996.
  • Our Beautiful, Dry, and Distant Texts: Art History as Writing, University Park, PA: Penn State Press, 1997.
  • On Pictures and the Words That Fail Them, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1998.
  • What Painting Is. How to Think about Oil Painting, Using the Language of Alchemy, New York and London : Routledge, 1999; 2000, PDF.
  • Why are Our Pictures Puzzles? On the Modern Origins of Pictorial Complexity, London and New York: Routledge, 1999, IA.
  • The Domain of Images, On the Historical Study of Visual Artifacts, Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1999.
  • Pictures of the Body: Pain and Metamorphosis, Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1999.
  • How to Use Your Eyes, New York: Routledge, 2000, PDF.
  • Why Art Cannot be Taught: A Handbook for Art Students, Urbana, IL: University of Illinois Press, 2001.
  • Stories of Art, New York: Routledge, 2002.
  • Visual Studies: A Skeptical Introduction, New York: Routledge, 2003.
  • What Happened to Art Criticism?, Chicago: Prickly Paradigm Press, 2003; 2004, PDF.
  • 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, New York and London: Routledge, 2004, PDF, IA
  • editor, Is Art History Global?, New York: Routledge, 2006; 2007, IA.
  • editor, with Michael Newman, The State of Art Criticism, New York: Routledge, 2008 [2].
  • editor, with Rachael Ziady DeLue, Landscape Theory, New York: Routledge, 2008, IA.
  • editor, with Robert Williams, Renaissance Theory, New York: Routledge, 2008, IA.
  • editor, with David Morgan, Re-Enchantment, New York: Routledge, 2009.
  • editor, Visual Cultures, Bristol and Chicago: Intellect Ltd, 2010, IA.
  • What Photography Is, New York: Routledge, 2012.
  • editor, with Harper Montgomery, Beyond the Aesthetic and the Anti-Aesthetic, University Park, Pennsylvania: Penn State University Press, 2013, IA.
  • "Michelangelo and the Human Form: His Knowledge and Use of Anatomy", Art History 7 (1984), pp 176-186.
  • "Psychoanalysis and Art History", Psychoanalysis and Contemporary Thought 9 (1986), pp 261-298.
  • "Art History Without Theory", Critical Inquiry 14 (1988), pp 354-378.
  • "What Really Happens in Pictures? Misreading with Nelson Goodman", in Word & Image 9:4 (1993), pp 349-362.