This lecture will report on a work in progress called «Visual Worlds», co-written with Erna Fiorentini. As part of that book, we are developing vocabularies of things absent from pictures. I will discuss seven concepts: the absent, the unpicturable, the undepictable, the unrepresentable, the inconceivable, the non-visual, and the non-pictorial. Examples will range from medieval icons to images from quantum mechanics. Our interest is to see if a uniform conceptualization can lend coherence to the rapidly developing interest in failures and limits of representation.
BIO/BIB — 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 in the Department of Art History, Theory, and Criticism at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. Elkins’ 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’ Camera Lucida, and Art Critiques: A Guide.