Guide to Art History Resources
What do you do after you have taken care of all of life’s necessities? Sometimes the urge to create something just for the sake of its aesthetic value arises, either to capture what the creator of the artist sees or project subjective qualities onto the work. As art has developed throughout the ages, there has been a parallel movement to understand art, its historical development, and its context within other cultural phenomena. As a result, there has developed the field of Art History. The title of first art historian is conferred upon Xenocrates of Sicyon, who was writing around 300 BCE and is credited as a source by Pliny the Older – the first art historian with extant works.
Art History Information
Most historical research of an artwork begins with a study of the work itself in what is called formal analysis. Researchers conducting a formal analysis determine who created the work; when, where, why, and for whom it was made; and what media were used in the work’s creation, examining color choice, how the colors contrast and interact with one another, choice of subject matter and the degree of realism, stylization, or abstraction. After a formal analysis has been conducted for several pieces, an art historian may then conduct a comparative analysis, elaborating on similarities and differences between the works.
Stylistic analyses may also be conducted to determine how a particular work acts in accordance or discordance with a particular style or historical division of art. Information derived from a formal analysis – including color palette, representational style, and brushwork – provide the means to arrive at conclusions during a stylistic analysis. With advances in imaging technology art historians have become better able to understand how artists were able to manipulate their media of choice with the tools at their disposal.
Art historians also study how representations of the same or similar ideas evolves over time in what is called iconography. Through iconography, art historians are able to trace the shifts in value ascribed to a common set of symbols by studying the meaning inferred in the combination of a particular set of icons or symbols, a process called iconology. Iconology and iconography can be studied at the level of a single artist or a broader community.
As a result of their researches, art historians may develop critiques and theories concerning the development of art as a whole or focus on one artist or a movement.
Historical & Regional Divisions
Circa 75,000 BCE: The oldest piece of art is created – geometric striations on a rock.
Prehistoric Art: Art developed in the period of human culture prior to the invention of writing. Forms tend to be abstract or stylized. Examples include cave art created in Lascaux, France and different regions on the Iberian Peninsula, Asia,
Ancient Egypt: An empire existing from 4300 BCE until the subjugation by the Romans in 30 BCE, Ancient Egypt provided a wide array of artistic products and inspired contemporary and later periods of artistic development.
Ancient Greece and Rome: Civilization which provided occidental art with a standard of realism in sculpture, evolving from abstracted forms to lifelike depictions. The Romans borrowed many artistic ideas from the Greeks.
Medieval Art: Medieval art moved away from the realism, which was prominent during the Greek and Roman eras. Includes the Romanesque – characterized by thicker and heavier forms – and Gothic movements. Common forms of art in this period include illuminated manuscripts and religious statuary.
Renaissance: The period following the Gothic movement in which classical ideas from the ancient Greeks and Romans were re-incorporated into Western art. Classical Greece’s emphasis on formal realism began to become reasserted during the Renaissance.
Baroque: Artistic movement which was primarily active during the 17th Century. Baroque art is characterized by dynamism in the sense of movement brought to the artwork and the color choices of the artists. A strong dichotomy exists in Baroque art between Catholic – primarily religiously oriented works – and Protestant – works primarily focused on secular subjects – countries.
Neoclassicism: Another period in Western art, beginning in the middle of the 18th Century, during which the arts from ancient Greece were made popular, due to the perceived rationality of ancient Greece and the ideals of the Enlightenment, which were operating in Europe at the same time.
Impressionism: Emphasizes the use of fluid brush strokes with a heavy application of pigments and bold use of color. Paintings were not meant to provide a realistic portrayal of the subject matter.
Modernism: Many artists still held to the established traditions during the Modernist period. However, there was greater experimentation with form and abstraction occurring as well. Many artistic movements occurred during the Modernist period, including Art Nouveau, Art Deco, Futurism, Arts & Crafts, and Die Bruecke. Many of these movements were characterized by a nationalistic tendency in the artworks.
Mesoamerican Art – Provides examples of the art and sculpture created by the civilizations which inhabited Central and South America prior to the arrival of Spanish explorers.
Victoria and Albert Museum: Asia Collection - Showcases examples of artwork from the Asian continent, including Chinese, Japanese, Korean, Southeast Asian, Indian, and Islamic artworks
Department of Art History, Sweet Briar College – Series of sites related to the development of movements in Western Art
North American Ethnographic Collection – The American Museum of Natural History’s collection of artifacts from American Indian tribes, including works of art
Raymond and Laura Wielgus Gallery – Collection from the Indiana University Art Museum which holds tribal art pieces crafted in the South Pacific, Africa and the Americas
Picture: John_Frederick_Kensett_painting, Smithsonian Institution, Wikimedia Commons, 2009