Pictures and Tears
A History of People Who Have Cried in Front of Paintings
By James Elkins
Routledge – 2002 – 272 pages
Routledge – 2002 – 272 pages
Art Does art leave you cold? And is that what it's supposed to do? Or is a painting meant to move you to tears? Hemingway was reduced to tears in the midst of a drinking bout when a painting by James Thurber caught his eye. And what's bad about that? In Pictures and Tears, art historian James Elkins tells the story of paintings that have made people cry. Drawing upon anecdotes related to individual works of art, he provides a chronicle of how people have shown emotion before works of art in the past, and a meditation on the curious tearlessness with which most people approach art in the present. Deeply personal, Pictures and Tears is a history of emotion and vulnerability, and an inquiry into the nature of art. This book is a rare and invaluable treasure for people who love art. Also includes an 8-page color insert.
"…a provocative and felicitous inquiry… the most arresting facet of his unique investigation is his charting of the declining value society places on heartfelt reactions to art… Elkins elucidates subtle conceptions of pictoral time, presence, and absence; criticizes the bloodlessness of most art-history texts; and indicts the marketplace atmosphere of most museums. Prized by Romantics in the not-so-distant past, art-inspired tears are disdained in our brittle, ironic milieu, a psychological and spiritual diminishment Elkins boldly and rightly decries." -- Donna Seaman, Booklist
"To cry in front of art is not a sign of weakness: it is the flexing of a truly aesthetic power. That is the truth we gain from James Elkins' admirably engaged and engaging book." -- Nigel Spivey, author of Enduring Creation
"A history of weeping, a meditation on our deepest responses to art, and an ethnography of his own tribe of art historians, Pictures and Tears attempts to reclaim aesthetic experience from what Elkins calls 'the poison well' of art history and theory. I wish I could have read this book before I had written my own." -- Tom Lutz, author of Crying: The Natural and Cultural History of Tears
"In the course of reading this book I found the following to be especially valuable: Eileen John's questioning of traditional propositional accounts of knowledge in "Art and Knowledge," Alan Goldman's defense of the much attacked concepts of aesthetic ewww.trs.nyc.ny.us.experience and attitude in "The Aesthetic," and Denis Dutton's listing of characteristics of art found in all cultures in "Aesthetic Universals." This is an immensely useful book that belongs in every college library and on the bookshelves of all serious students of aesthetics. It certainly exemplifies the editors' claim that philosophical aesthetics is a vibrant field today. The Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism Spring 2003."
James Elkins is Professor at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. He is the author of many books, including How to Use Your Eyes and What Painting Is, both published by Routledge.