Top Art History Books for Beginners
1. Art Through the Ages – by Helen Gardner
This authoritative source is now in its 15th edition. Initially published in 1926, it is still considered one of, if not the best, books available on art history. Of note, Art Through the Ages is a textbook aimed at college and university students and may not be suitable for casual reading. Nevertheless, this classic starts by looking at the birth of art in ancient times and goes all the way through to contemporary art.
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2. The Art Book – by a compilation of multiple authors
A compact classic on the topic of art history, The Art Book includes writings from curators, critics, artists, historians, and academics. Along with the variety of texts, The Art Book includes colorful full-page images, which help enhance learning.
3. The Story Of Art – by H. Gombrich
Considered by some to be the bible of western art history, The Story of Art is thorough and comprehensive, yet easy to read and jargon-free. “One of its best features is its easy-to-understand background on all the art movements that most people have likely heard of but are unsure of what they are exactly,” writes Rick Jile, a writer at Essayroo and State Of Writing.
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In this book Berger takes a somewhat different approach to art by focusing on what and how we see the subject in artwork. It is this focus that makes this book one of the best when it comes to art history as it gives us further insight into the way culture and society influence our ability to see and interpret art.
Unlike some other art history books, Berger takes some time to speak about aesthetics and the concept of art itself. What is art? What separates art from non-art? These questions may seem unnecessary at times, but they are still very perplexing, and Berger does his best to offer some food for thought on the matter.
Theories of art are not the standard art history text that goes through a chronological overview of movements and artists. “In fact, it is far from this, and provides readers with a different type of insight through the use of letters, musings, writings, and essays by famous artists, art critics, and historians,” writes Dereck Brun, an art expert at Paperfellows and OXEssays.
Perhaps the most interesting part of Theories of Modern Art is the collection of letters from famous artists such as Van Gogh and the different manifestos, such as Gauguin’s manifesto on his theory of symbols and surrealism.
6. The Power of Art – by Simon Schama
The Power Of Art is a somewhat controversial book, and not everyone likes the approach Schama has taken due to his personality, opinions, style, which are all over his work, and he makes absolutely no apologies for it. Nevertheless, the book provides an interesting perspective into the life of ten famous artists and, in some cases, reads more like a drama than an art history book.
7. Art History and Its Methods – by Eric Fernie
In this book Fernie provides a fascinating look at how art and art history can be applied to specific fields such as symbolism, formalism, and semiotics. As with some other books on this list, Art History And Its Methods really gets at the core of what art means to people and how we interact with it. We learn that it is no accident that even the oldest known civilizations spent time creating and preserving art.
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