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James Elkins
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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-five 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 do 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 in the Departments of Visual and Critical Studies, and also Art History, Theory, and Criticism.

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 (Six Stories from the End of Representation). Links to his books, and many full texts, are on www.jameselkins.com.

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 specialties in Delacroix and Picasso. Jim’s interests include microscopy (with a Zeiss Nomarski differential interference microscope and Anoptral phase contrast), optics (he owns an ophthalmologist’s slit-lamp microscope), stereo photography (with a Realist camera), playing piano, and (whenever possible) winter ocean diving.

Blog Entries by James Elkins

What Heaven Looks Like: Part 4 -- World's Strangest Paintings for the New Year

19 Comments | Posted December 28, 2011 | 12:24:19 (EST)

I am serializing an unpublished book in this column. It's about an amazing, mysterious manuscript I discovered in Scotland. It's a little book with nothing in it but 50 watercolor paintings. No one knows who painted it, or when, or where, or what it means. I was so entranced by...

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What Heaven Looks Like: Part 3

29 Comments | Posted December 6, 2011 | 15:06:21 (EST)

I am serializing an unpublished book in this column. It's about an amazing, mysterious manuscript I discovered in Scotland. It's a little book with nothing in it but 50 watercolor paintings. No one knows who painted it, or when, or where, or what it means. I was so entranced by...

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What Heaven Looks Like: Part 2

38 Comments | Posted November 28, 2011 | 17:02:28 (EST)

I am serializing an unpublished book in this column. It's about an amazing, mysterious manuscript I discovered in Scotland. It's a little book with nothing in it but 50 watercolor paintings. No one knows who painted it, or when, or where, or what it means. I was so entranced by...

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What Heaven Looks Like

94 Comments | Posted November 23, 2011 | 08:40:35 (EST)

I'm going to be serializing an unpublished book, starting this week. It's about an amazing, mysterious manuscript I discovered in Scotland. It's a little book with nothing in it but 50 watercolor paintings. No one knows who painted it, or when, or where, or what it means. I was so...

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The Most Beautiful Painting in the World

Posted March 16, 2011 | 17:01:48 (EST)

This month I am going to write about the painting that means the most to me, Giovanni Bellini's Ecstasy of St. Francis in the Frick Collection in Manhattan. By a stroke of luck it is included in the Google Art Project, so I can reproduce it in detail....

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Exploring Famous Unfinished Paintings in Google Art Project | Cezanne, De Kooning, Ofili (PHOTOS)

Posted February 15, 2011 | 23:52:04 (EST)

I have been writing about looking slowly, taking the time to see the visual world. My first column was about a Mondrian painting, and it included some closeups made with a special macro lens. After that, I turned to the question of boredom (are artists ever...

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Looking at the Sky. Ice Halos: Divine Signals Or The Ultimate Art Installation?

Posted January 18, 2011 | 15:56:42 (EST)

I have been writing about looking, and how to take the time to see the world around you. The first few columns have been about paintings, especially Mondrian and Titian. But I promised from the beginning that I would be looking at many other things,...

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Are Artists Bored by Their Work?

Posted December 15, 2010 | 21:33:54 (EST)

I have been writing about looking slowly, taking time to let the visual world seep into your thoughts. It took me three years, on and off, to learn to see a certain painting by Mondrian. In my last column, the subject was a beautiful painting in...

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How Long Does it Take To Look at a Painting?

Posted November 6, 2010 | 15:32:15 (EST)

My subject in these posts is how we look at the world. In future columns, I will be writing about all sorts of things, from hieroglyphs to ice halos, from postage stamps to insect wings. I want to gently undermine the idea that there's nothing to be said about seeing...

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How to Look at Mondrian

Posted October 13, 2010 | 22:43:06 (EST)

Our eyes are far too good for us. They show us so much that we can't take it all in, so we shut out most of the world, and try to look at things as briskly and efficiently as possible.

What happens if we stop, and take the...

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