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Top 5 Books to Studying the History of Art

Top 5 Books to Studying the History of Art

The term “art history” is easy to understand at first glance. It is the history of art. But the topic goes deeper than that. It asks, “What is art?” and “Whose historical events should we study?” Art history is more than a chronological list of all the world’s artistic movements.

WHAT IS THE SIGNIFICANCE OF ART HISTORY?

History tends to repeat itself. So, why study art history when you can pursue other options? If we look at the discipline from a career perspective, we see that it serves fundamental purposes.

UNDERSTANDING CULTURES

Visual art tells stories about our past and gives an account of past events. Art history allows us to see back and learn how civilization has changed over time. It helps us to understand ourselves better. What is it that makes certain values so important? What has shaped our thinking and how do we see the world?

CRITICAL THINKING IS ESSENTIAL

It is not about learning dates, artist names, movements, etc. when you study art history. It is about analyzing paintings, photographs, and sculptures. You must support your analysis with convincing and rational arguments. This will help you develop your critical thinking.

Art history books tend to focus on one particular area, set of artists and style of art. This is usually Western fine art made by men. This is a narrow and exclusionary approach that ignores other people groups. It also omits creative expressions. That is why it’s important to know how to select the right books.

HOW TO CHOOSE THE RIGHT ART HISTORY BOOKS

A textbook is a good place to start if you are new to art history. This is an academic approach that will provide a basic overview of major art movements and styles. New textbooks can be expensive. You can opt for PDFs online that are free or used copies at Amazon if you choose to go this route.

It will be easier to find what interests you and learn more about art history once you have a good understanding of it. This could be a particular style, artist, period, or other aspect of art history.

JANSON’S HISTORY OF ART (9TH EDITION). BY PENELOPE J.E. DAVIES ET. AL.

Janson’s History of Art is the most popular book for students of art for the past 60 years. It was first published in 1962 and provides a comprehensive overview of art history, from the Gothic period through modern times. The ninth edition, which is the most recent, has expanded its coverage. Previous editions had a tendency to neglect female artists and minorities. It also includes other art forms, such as architecture or photography.

THE STORY OF ART BY E.H. GOMBRICH

Gombrich begins the book by saying, “There is no such thing art. There are only artists.” This is the opening line of the book, as Gombrich focuses on the individual artists and their works. The editorial staff at Art in America recommends it highly and it has been a national bestseller for over 40 years.

It is written in simple language that makes it accessible to readers of all backgrounds and ages. Although the content does touch on tribal art, it focuses more on Western male artists. 

AFRICAN-AMERICAN ART BY SHARON F. PATTON

The diversity of art and its creators is a hallmark of the human condition. Sharon F. Patton’s 1998 classic, African-American Art is a showcase of the many art styles found in America’s black community during the 18th through 20th centuries. It discusses the architectural styles of enslaved persons, the folk- and decorative arts of 19th century America, and how they were influenced by major events such as the Civil War.

Patton moves into the 20th Century and examines the intersection between politics and the aesthetics of African-American art.

WOMEN, ART, AND SOCIETY BY WHITNEY CHADWICK

Chadwick’s book challenges long-held beliefs that great women artists only are great because they are the “exception to the rule.” It was originally published in 1996 and has since been a source of light on previously unknown female artists and their work. The women studied span the Middle Ages through modern times and include notable names such as:

  • Wangechi Mutu
  • Pae White
  • Yael Bartana
  • Jenny Saville

Chadwick does more than just highlight these women. She also reexamines their work from a feminist perspective. Chadwick’s critique focuses on how women in art have been historically marginalized.

100 YEARS 100 ARTWORKS BY AGNES BERECZ

Although it may be the most recent book on our shelves, that doesn’t necessarily mean it is only contemporary. Berecz examines the greatest works of the last century in 100 Years. Her survey starts in 1919 with Marcel Duchamp’s playful L.H.O.O.Q.

100 Years includes works from all over the globe, in different styles. This makes it even more fascinating. 

CONCLUSION

Academia has historically excluded contributions made by women, minorities and non-Western actors throughout history. When it comes to their contributions in art, these groups have been overlooked. Authors are now displaying artists from different backgrounds in their books. You will gain a greater understanding of art over the years by reading widely.

Author’s bio: Irene Mitchell is a member of the Editorial Team at Educator’s Stream, a professional learning community. Mitchell is an educational freelance writer, who is experienced in writing for students, parents, and the ones asking to do my homework for me. Also passionate about writing and sharing her knowledge through blogging.


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