Episode 70: James Elkins

December 31, 2006 · Print This Article

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Duncan and Terri talk to James Elkins about his books, criticism and more! Mike Benedetto provides an utterly hilarious movie review and public service announcement.

From Mr. Elkins’ web site:

James Elkins grew up in Ithaca, New York, separated from Cornell University by a quarter-mile of woods once owned by the naturalist Laurence Palmer.

He stayed on in Ithaca long enough to get the BA degree (in English and Art History), with summer hitchhiking trips to Alaska, Mexico, Guatemala, the Caribbean, and Columbia. For the last twenty years he has lived in Chicago; he got a graduate degree in painting, and then switched to Art History, got another graduate degree, and went on to the PhD in Art History, which he finished in 1989. (All from the University of Chicago.) Since then he has been teaching at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. He is currently E.C. Chadbourne Chair in the Department of Art History, Theory, and Criticism. He also teaches in the Department of Visual and Critical Studies, and is Head of History of Art at the University College Cork, Ireland.

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).

Current projects include a book called Success and Failure in Twentieth-Century Painting, another called Writing about the World’s Art, and several edited books: a series called “The Art Seminar,” one called “Theories of Modernism and Postmodernism in the Visual Art.,” and edited books on W.G. Sebald, representations of pain in art, and the university-wide study of images.

He married Margaret MacNamidhe in 1994 on Inishmore, one of the Aran Islands, off the West coast of Ireland. Margaret is also an art historian, with a specialty in Delacroix. His interests include freshwater microscopy (with a Zeiss Nomarski differential interference microscope), optics (he owns an ophthalmologist’s slit-lamp microscope), stereo photography (with a Realist camera), playing piano, and winter ocean diving

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