Art history for a total beginner
May 13, 2010 8:52 AM   Subscribe

I love going to museums and galleries and looking at art, but somehow never got around to taking an art history class in college. I'm looking for a book that will give me a good basic grounding in art history. Suggestions, please?
posted by Messily to Media & Arts (21 answers total) 58 users marked this as a favorite
Kenneth Clarke's The Nude is in a lot of Art History 101 classes.

Take the audio tours at your favorite museums! Great way to learn with the painting right in front of you.
posted by The Whelk at 8:58 AM on May 13, 2010

The textbook for my first year Art History class was Janson's History of Art.
posted by toodles at 9:00 AM on May 13, 2010 [1 favorite]

Not a book (nor strictly limited to art history), but you might take a look at Kenneth Clark's Civilisation, and for the modern world Robert Hughes' Shock of the New, which was both a book and a TV series.
posted by lex mercatoria at 9:02 AM on May 13, 2010

Best answer: If you just want to look at pictures a lot, there are two classic introductory works for that:
Honor & Fleming's A World History of Art, or Janson's History of Art.

If you would like more story Gombrich's Story of Art. Gombrich has written several other very good generic books. Like Art and Illusion. Or The Sense of Order.

If you want your information spoon fed, look for the videos of say Robert Hughes' Shock of the New, or John Berger's Ways of Looking. Neither of these two are complete art histories, both are biassed, bothare entertaining.
posted by ijsbrand at 9:03 AM on May 13, 2010 [2 favorites]

We used Marylin Stockstad. I found it a very useful book. I have friends who went to other universities who also used it.
posted by yeti at 9:05 AM on May 13, 2010

I meant berger's Ways of Seeing
posted by ijsbrand at 9:05 AM on May 13, 2010 [2 favorites]

Janson is a good overview covering all the major art movements.
posted by otherwordlyglow at 9:06 AM on May 13, 2010

I can't recommend Guerrilaa Girls Art History enough. It will educate you on what didn't make the history books.
posted by Eicats at 9:07 AM on May 13, 2010 [1 favorite]

damn my typo laden fingers! correction: Guerrilla
posted by Eicats at 9:08 AM on May 13, 2010

Seconding Gombrich.
posted by ocherdraco at 9:21 AM on May 13, 2010

The History of Modern Art by H.H. Arnason was the texbook we used in our first year of undergraduate art school.
posted by cazoo at 9:24 AM on May 13, 2010

Another vote for Gombrich.
posted by sbrollins at 9:26 AM on May 13, 2010

Nthing Gombrich. When I curated a collection of art and architecture slides, I kept a copy of Gombrich by my desk for both reference and to read during down time - it's an easy read.
posted by telophase at 9:34 AM on May 13, 2010

Best answer: To supplement your reading I suggest these websites:

The Mets' Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History.
posted by ericb at 10:06 AM on May 13, 2010

I'm also going to recommend HH Arnason. It's very readable, and was purchased for my 20th & 21st century art history courses. It does a pretty good job of giving non-western centric points of view, or at least openly acknowledges when it does so. It was one book this poor art major did not sell back, so hopefully that speaks for it.

I also took several courses on ancient art and eastern art before that course, which gives a good foundation an all, but my big bias is for American post 1919 art. If you're leaning a bit more european, or older there may be better books out there for you.

Have fun, I know how much more exciting it can be to say "Oh look, that piece is really famous and I know why!" It's like meeting a celebrity (for huge dorks like me.)
posted by fontophilic at 10:11 AM on May 13, 2010 [1 favorite]

Dear God I hated Janson so much that when I moved I left it out on the curb in front of my house. YMMV.
posted by TWinbrook8 at 10:20 AM on May 13, 2010

What about Sister Wendy?
posted by Hanuman1960 at 10:41 AM on May 13, 2010

Seconding Sister Wendy. It's really accessible for folks who want to learn more about Art.
posted by quadog at 2:23 PM on May 13, 2010

Response by poster: Thanks so much, everyone! I'm really excited to check out all the suggestions.
posted by Messily at 2:44 PM on May 13, 2010

Ah, Janson's reputation precedes itself... the classic required overview art-textbook, and one dull piece of shit, with dull text and dull blurry photos. Must avoid. Excellent door-stop.

I highly recommend The Art Book by Phaidon. 500 color images from throughout art history, each with a brief description which really sums up the context of the artist in couple of sentences. It is swell. Get it.
posted by ovvl at 7:56 PM on May 13, 2010

When my wife was brushing up on her art history for a Praxis test she borrowed the full Great Courses: Art Across The Ages DVD set from the local library. It's a classroom-style lecture-and-slides series by Georgetown Professor Ori Soltes and is a fairly comprehensive and engaging overview of pretty much everything. Soltes is amazing.
posted by brownpau at 6:28 PM on May 15, 2010

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