11 Essential Art History Books for Fine Arts Students – ARTnews.com

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You are reading: Best art history books

As extensive as fine arts course syllabi lists can be, it’s never a bad idea to supplement your class requirements with other degrees. Need some pointers to build your art history book collection? We’ve put together a list of must-haves below, both mainstream and specialist, covering the history of art from classical antiquity to the present. art history is a malleable discipline, subject to recurring revisions and reassessments. but understanding of developments in art depends on it, or is at least enhanced by it. refine your studies in this field with one or more of our selections. (price and availability in force at the time of publication).

1. penelope j.e. Davies, et al., Janson’s History of Art (9th Edition)

for more than 60 years, horst woldemar janson’s book cover served as the reference text for art history 101 courses everywhere, promising an overview of painting, sculpture, and architecture from the ages dawn of civilization to the present. For the most part, she delivered, except for one titanic omission: female artists. Janson did not believe there was anything worthy of serious consideration, a bias consistent with the book’s origins being in the Mad Men era, and which the author held until his death in 1982. However, a 2006 revision essentially eliminated Janson. of his own book. , although his name remained in the title. Works cited as masterpieces (such as James McNeill’s 1871 painting arrangement Whistle in Gray and Black No. 1, also known as The Mother of Whistle) were dropped, while previously ignored disciplines (photography and decorative arts) were added ), as were, finally, the female artists. Furthermore, it replaced Janson’s focus on the male artist as genius with a more comprehensive reading that takes race, class, and gender into account. this most recent edition, published in 2013, expands the coverage of Islamic art in its own chapter.

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2. Hal Foster, Rosalind Krauss, et al., Art Since 1900 (3rd Edition, Two Volumes)

Compiled by contributors associated with October, the art criticism quarterly publication known for its dense and difficult writing, Art Since 1900 was published in 2005 as a correction to standard art histories and, at the same time, was aimed at a wider audience. still, the book retains October’s prickly attitude and post-structuralist bent, that is, he is skeptical of the notion that art embodies individual expressions that transcend time. consequently, the book does not trace the development of what it calls modernism, antimodernism, and postmodernism through artists or movements. Rather, it treats 20th-century art as a textual deconstruction with short essays tied to certain cultural or historical events in each year between 1900 and 2003, beginning with the publication of Sigmund Freud’s Interpretation of Dreams and ending with the 50th Biennale. from venice your mileage may vary, depending on how significant you consider these events to be in terms of art history, but art since 1900 exemplifies the non-hierarchical nature of discourse that is prevalent today.

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3. giorgio vasari, lives of the artists

Giorgio Vasari’s biographies of the key figures of the Italian Renaissance introduced the concept of art history as we know it. many of his subjects were his close contemporaries (he lived from 1511 to 1574), making the text a prime source for studying the epochal era that ushered in the Western tradition in art (until recently tied to the invented narrative genre by vasari). Originally published in 1550, Lives covers the period between Cimabue (1240-1302) and Michelangelo (1475-1564) and is preceded by a general treatise on architecture, sculpture, and painting. Later historians would blame Vasari for focusing too much on the artists of Florence and Rome, although the book was expanded in 1568 to include members of the Venetian school such as Titian. But although lives did not go beyond Italy, his influence spread rapidly throughout Europe, and the first of many translations of him appeared in the Dutch Republic in 1604.

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4. Mary Beard and John Henderson, Classical Art: From Greece to Rome Although the latter half of its title suggests a study beginning with ancient Greece, this book is actually more about the latter civilization. he proposes that without the Roman empire, classical art would not have lasted to trigger the renaissance. The authors argue that Rome’s transmission of Greek aesthetics laid the groundwork for Western art, and further argue that the Romans did not imitate Greek art but rather reinterpreted and reinvented it. The book’s five chapters cover painting, sculpture, portraits, and monuments, highlighting the role of lust—for power, posterity, and sex—in his quest. Side trips to archaeological sites like Pompeii explore how new finds maintain our fascination with objects from ancient times and note that their survival is ultimately a matter of chance.

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5. H.H. arnason, history of modern art

In more than 650 pages, h.h. Arnason’s history of modern art seems overwhelming, but since its appearance in 1968, it has served as the essential account of twentieth-century art. The book begins with Paris during the 19th century, when notions like art for art’s sake and artists like Manet, Monet, Gaugin, van Gogh, Seurat, and Cezanne fired the first shots at modernism. It goes on to recount the major movements—Cubism, Dada, Bauhaus, Surrealism, Abstract Expressionism, Pop Art—that impacted the last 100 years of painting, sculpture, and architecture. Using generous illustrations and accessible language, the book tells the story of a revolutionary era that transformed our thinking about the world and art’s place in it. Now in its seventh edition, The History of Modern Art has been repeatedly updated to include the latest artistic developments as the 20th century gives way to the 21st.

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6. Hey. gombrich, the history of art

At the beginning of this book (which also appears among the art in america staff’s essential reading selections), author e.h. gombrich observes, “there really is no such thing as art. there are only artists”. that statement sets the tone for what has become one of the most popular tomes in art history. Forgoing broad discussions of movement or concept, Gombrich focuses on individual artworks and the figures behind them. Except for a few diversions on ancient and tribal art, this invariably means western male painters. Still, Gombrich takes a remarkable stance for an art historian in arguing that art history can obscure as well as elucidate the experience of art by conveying information outside the act of seeing. Linking artists as diverse as Raphael and Cezanne over time, Gombrich insists that they all faced similar challenges in making their work and that, in the final analysis, the artist’s intentions are all that matters.

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7. the publishers of phaidon, the art book

Intelligent and lavishly produced, Phaidon’s A-Z Directory of Artists Throughout History is the one coffee table accessory you should have in your library. Spanning the Middle Ages to the present day, the book features 500 artists, and while some are better known than others, each is given the same lavish treatment: a nearly full-page, full-color reproduction of a key artwork printed with sharp details. attention to details. each entry is accompanied by a short text with an overview of the respective artist’s career written in clear, easy-to-follow language. Everywhere you open this volume, you’ll find stunning images, and since the artists are presented in alphabetical order, you’ll find unexpected juxtapositions of styles and eras on every page, like a combination of 17th-century Dutch painter Hendrick Ter Brugghen and French conceptualist. contemporary daniel burén although the art book leans heavily towards painting, it also covers sculpture, photography, video and installation art.

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8. richard shone and jean-paul stonard, eds., the books that shaped art history: from gombrich and greenberg to alpers and krauss

While an art history book about art history books is definitely meta, this compilation of essays covering the category’s 20th century milestones is a reminder of how closely developments in art are related to changes in your study. bringing together a broad group of leading scholars and curators, the books that shaped the history of art examines 12 volumes that introduced key critical concepts to the field, beginning with religious art in 13th-century france, written by émile mâle in 1898. one of the first studies of medieval art, the book of mâle was also one of the first to use iconography to discover the meaning of images. Another book, Heinrich Wölfflin’s 1915 Principles of Art History, formulated the now common method of comparing works of art on the basis of style. The Books That Shaped Art History dives deep into its subject matter, but is nonetheless a fascinating look at how writing has shaped art and vice versa.

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9. Sharon F. patton, african american art

sharon f. Patton’s 1998 survey connects African-American art with the black experience between the early eighteenth and late twentieth centuries. Patton begins with slavery, touching on plantation architecture and the African influences that inform the dwellings that enslaved people built for themselves in the southern states. Turning to the popular and decorative arts of the 19th century, Patton considers the impact of major events, such as the Civil War, Reconstruction, and the Great Migration, on the art made by African Americans. Finally, the author explores how African-American aesthetics were shaped during the 20th century by the new black movement of the 1920s, black nationalism in the 1960s and 1970s, and identity politics in the 1990s.

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10. charles townsend harrison and paul wood, eds., art in theory 1900-2000, (2nd edition)

As the title suggests, this book examines 20th-century art’s unique reliance on theory. in the period before what is known as modern art, aesthetic debates focused mainly on technique; During the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, for example, French academia was perturbed by arguments between two groups: the Poussinistes, named for the seventeenth-century neoclassicist Nicholas Poussin, and the Rubenistes, named for the older contemporary de poussin, peter paul rubens, about what was more important than paint, line or color. modernism, however, formulated an entire philosophy to radically transform art, propelling the movement, as charles harrison and paul wood write, from “the fringes of public attention to the center of the cultural economy”. Harrison and Wood incisively capture this revolution from Post-Impressionism to Postmodernism.

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11. whitney chadwick, women, art and society, (6th edition)

For centuries, female artists were overlooked by art historians, and the few who managed to gain recognition did so only because it was assumed that they had somehow overcome the limitations of their sex. According to this belief, women could not become artists on their own merits because their gender prevented them from doing so. this bias began to fade during the last decades of the last century as the achievements of women artists became too visible to ignore, most notably in contemporary art. Overlooked names of the past were being reassessed, and this 1996 study brings to light many of these artists from the Middle Ages onward. More importantly, the book illuminates their struggles against the misogyny of their respective times and how they persisted in continuing their work nonetheless.

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