Darby English

Carl Darling Buck Professor of Art History and the College
264 Cochrane-Woods Art Center

Darby English teaches courses in modern and contemporary American and European art (focusing on art produced since the First World War) and cultural studies. He serves also as associate faculty in the Department of Visual Arts and the Center for the Study of Race, Politics, and Culture.


English’s research probes art’s interaction—at the levels of its production, description, interpretation, and analysis—with instituted forms of historical subjectivity and experience. Recent research has focused on artistic and other cultural manifestations of optimism, discomposure, and interculture. More theoretical formulations of English’s work examine the difficulty of studying the foregoing themes at once as historical objects in themselves and negotiating their implications as sources of anxiety about historical change.


English is the author of 1971: A Year in the Life of Color (University of Chicago Press, 2016), and How to See a Work of Art in Total Darkness (MIT Press, 2007). He is co-editor of Art History and Emergency (Yale UP, 2016) and Kara Walker: Narratives of a Negress (MIT Press, 2002 and Rizzoli, 2007). In November 2016, English delivered the Richard D. Cohen Lectures at Harvard University. Collectively titled “The Right to Reflect: Lectures at the Intersection of Art and Racial Terror,” these will be published as a monograph on Yale University Press in late 2017 or early 2018. English’s short-form writing has appeared in Art Bulletin, Artforum, caareviews, The Guardian, The International Review of African-American Art and other venues. He is the recipient of fellowships and awards from the Clark Art Institute, the Institute for Advanced Study, the National Humanities Center, the National Endowment for the Humanities, the Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts/Creative Capital Foundation, the Getty Research Institute, and the College Art Association, among other bodies. In 2010, English received the University of Chicago’s Llewellyn John and Harriet Manchester Quantrell Award for Excellence in Undergraduate Teaching, the nation’s oldest such prize.


In 2014, English gave the twenty-sixth annual Hilla von Rebay Lecture at the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York, and in 2015, the Israel Rosen Lecture at Johns Hopkins University. English will give the FORART Lecture in Oslo in autumn 2017.


English is Consulting Curator in the Department of Painting and Sculpture at the Museum of Modern Art, New York. During a two-year hiatus from the University of Chicago, where English first taught from 2003 to 2013, he was Starr Director of the Research and Academic Program at the Clark Art Institute.



The Right to Art: Undertaking Reflection in the Moment of Racial Terror (Yale University Press, forthcoming)

1971: A Year in the Life of Color (University of Chicago Press, 2016)

How to See a Work of Art in Total Darkness (MIT Press, 2007)

Edited volumes

Art History and Emergency (Yale UP, 2016). Edited with David Breslin.

Color. One of a 6-volume series of themed readers in American art history and visual culture. Terra Foundation for American Art. Series editor: Rachael Z. DeLue.

Kara Walker: Narratives of a Negress (Rizzoli, 2007). Republication.

Kara Walker: Narratives of a Negress (MIT Press, 2003). Edited with Ian Berry, Vivian Patterson, and Mark Reinhardt.