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What Painting Is


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Table of Contents


Introduction to the 20th Anniversary edition


  1. A Short Course in Forgetting Chemistry
  2. How to Count in Oil and Stone
  3. The Mouldy Materia Prima
  4. How do Substances Occupy the Mind?
  5. Coagulating, cohobating, macerating, reverberating
  6. The Studio as a Kind of Psychosis
  7. Steplessness
  8. The Beautiful Reddish Light of the Philosopher's Stone
  9. Last Words

About the Author

James Elkins is Professor of Art History, Theory, and Criticism at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. He is the author of many books, including How to Use Your Eyes, What Photography Is, Visual Literacy, and Visual Studies: A Skeptical Introduction, among other titles.


"One of the few essential books on oil painting....In passages from which every critic should learn, Elkins tries to decode the exact physical gestures that produced what he sees....He makes readers feel they are truly tasting a viewpoint of reality alien to the modern scientific world view." --San Francisco Examiner and Chronicle

"A truly original book. It will make you look at paintings differently and think about paint differently." -- Boston Globe

"Wandering in the Metropolitan, needing a break from looking at art, I went to the shop, purchased What Painting Is, and sat down and started to read. When then I got up again, the art looked different. Elkins's best writing teaches you how to look more closely and see more."--David Carrier, Art Journal

"What Painting Is succeeds very well in evoking the odors, stickiness, and intense attraction of the paint itself."--Katerina Duskova, The Art Bulletin

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