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3 Qualities of Ideal Art History Resources
Online Resources
Books
Living & Breathing Resources

Found a cool piece or area of art you want to dive deeper into? Looking for a study of art history comprehensive enough to hold your own in conversations with old rich people? Maybe you want to impress a Special Someone with knowledge about his or her favorite genre of art. Here are a few resources to help get you started:

3 Qualities of Ideal Art History Resources

  1. Stunning photos
  2. Quality info
  3. Sense of narrative

Books do a better job of presenting a coherent narrative of the context of multiple works of art, while websites are better at finding lots of info about a specific work. The photos are more than half the fun of art history. I’ve noticed that online materials have a tradeoff between quality information and stunning photos – some sites have quality info but no photos, or vice versa. Art history books, no matter how basic, don’t have that tradeoff – they almost always have fantastic photos and legit info.

The “story” behind each work gives it more context and makes it more interesting and memorable  – works of art did not happen in isolation, but rather as part of the fabric of human culture, with global influences, across slices of time and space.

(Disclaimer: I am not being paid by anyone to endorse any of the following.)

I will be adding to this list with time. If you find any other cool resources, please let me know at bernadette at artsnap dot org – I’ll post it here with a shout-out to you!

Online Resources

Surprisingly, the museum resources for teachers are great! Found on websites of every major museum, they often have gorgeous PDF’s that are short, have great graphics, and straightforward information that explains the context. For example, here are such resources from the Art Institute of Chicago. Skip to the ones that are for a high school level.

So, find a museum that features the type of art you’re interested in and check out that museums’ education resources:

Books

  • Janson’s History of Art: My all-time favorite. Comprehensive, great pictures, solid info, short chapters so you can skip around to what’s interesting to you. My jaw dropped when this phone book was assigned to Stanford’s Art History 1 class, but seeing the value in it, I soon bought it for myself.
  • Art in Renaissance Italy: Great overview of the progression of the Renaissance. Beautiful pictures. Goes through both the super-famous artists and more obscure artists. Was assigned to Stanford’s Renaissance Italy art history class.
  • Museums guide books: really helpful as you go through a museum. Great pictures, concise captions, make great coffee table books.

Living & Breathing Resources

  • If you’re at a museum anyway, go on a guided tour. If an audio tour is more your thing, definitely do that – whatever floats your boat. On a guided tour, you have a live person who is knowledgeable explaining stuff to you and telling a story. You can ask questions and get an immediate answer (I’m trusting you won’t be “that guy” who asks 100 unnecessary questions…).
  • Attend a museum lecture or film screening. There are talks every day focusing on different topics, some more specific than others. It’s often the curator himself or herself who talks. Here’s such a schedule for the SFMOMA.
  • Meet the artist: If the art you’re interested in happens to have artists that are still alive, find a way to talk to them! No, don’t be creepy – attend a gallery opening or museum talk.
  • Take a class: Your local college or university may have a “School of Continuing Studies” or “Continuing Education” that may offer budget-priced evening classes or weekend seminar in a variety of topics, including Art History. For example, check out the course listings for Stanford Continuing Studies.