Stories of Art
By James Elkins
Routledge – 2003 – 192 pages
Stories of Art is James Elkins's intimate history of art. Concise and original, this engaging book is an antidote to the behemoth art history textbooks from which we were all taught. As he demonstrates so persuasively, there can never be one story of art. Cultures have their own stories - about themselves, about other cultures - and to hear them all is one way to hear the multiple stories that art tells. But each of us also has our own story of art, a kind of private art history made up of the pieces we have seen, and loved or hated, the effects they had on us, and the connections that might be drawn among them.
Elkins opens up the questions that traditional art history usually avoids. What about all the art not produced in Western Europe or in the Europeanized Americas? Is it possible to include Asian art and Indian art in ‘the story?’ What happens when one does? To help us find answers, he uses both Western and non-Western artworks, tables of contents from art histories written in cultures outside the centre of Western European tradition, and strangely wonderful diagrams of how artworks might connect through a single individual. True multiculturalism may be an impossibility, but art lovers can each create a ‘story of art’ that is right for themselves.
"Using sketches of his own and those of his students to illustrate alternatives to the standard chronology of the historical time line, Elkins proposes a number of throught-provoking ways to organize the stories of art that are not based on a strict adherence to dates, many of which can only be surmised." -- Kirkus Review
"Eminently readable and at times outright fun, Stories of Art is a terrific and transparent meditation on what's at stake in the histories of art we all so glibly recite. Instead of writing yet another survey, James Elkins provides the little counter-narrative that rubs up against the monumental survey volumes with a kind of graceful annoyance. The little buzzing bee that worries the elephant." -- Michael Ann Holly, Clark Art Institute
"A much needed, thoughtful, and intelligent reflection on the disciplinary status and cultural function of the history of art. Stories of Art is an invaluable aid in articulating the hidden agenda that informs art history as it is currently constituted, and an indispensable addition to our increasingly self-aware art historical enterprise." -- Keith Moxey, author of The Practice of Persuasion: Paradox and Power in Art History
James Elkins is Professor of Art History at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. He is the author of many books. Among is books are Pictures and Tears, How to Use Your Eyes, and What Painting Is, all published by Routledge.