The 10 Best Art History Textbooks
This wiki has been updated 10 times since it was first published in July of 2018. As an academic field, art history has developed to include theoretical discussions not only about aesthetics, but also the social and political contexts surrounding the work. Whether you're looking for a comprehensive survey of creativity throughout human history, or a more in-depth look at one particular area, this list includes an eclectic selection of volumes to meet most needs. When users buy our independently chosen editorial picks, we may earn commissions to help fund the Wiki.
June 02, 2020:
Art history is a vast, global discipline that spans back to before civilization when the first cave paintings were made. It's no surprise, then, that there's no one-size-fits-all textbook on the subject. We decided to curate a list of comprehensive introductions to Western, Eastern, and African regions, as well as general overviews, reference guides, and tomes suitable for beginners and advanced students. We sourced selections appropriate for laypeople, but if you're looking for more volumes that cater to a general audience, check out our other list of art history books.
If you're looking to dip a toe into the field, look to the newly-added Art: A Visual History, an accessible volume that spans prehistory to current day. It replaced Ways of Seeing, which felt outdated having been initially published in 1972, and is focused on perspectives and how people process art rather than its history.
For those interested in works from Asia, Asian Art took on the monumental task of distilling contributions spanning thousands of years and myriad cultures into one book. It does a pretty stellar job considering, although some have gripes as to its treatment of certain regions and a few glaring omissions. We added it to replace Art in China, feeling that more students would appreciate a wider scope.
If you want to home in on a particular period, Nineteenth Century Art and History of Modern Art are helpful, while Art: A World History makes an ideal primer. For a fresh take that's long overdue, A History of Art in Africa looks to portray African art in a respectful framework that dispels with old, outdated colonial mindsets and perspectives that distort them.
Coursera If you're just learning about art history, an online course can supplement your textbook nicely. Coursera collaborates with over 200 leading universities and companies to bring well-rounded digital classes to the masses. Those looking for something in the humanities will appreciate their impressive variety of offerings, from courses on contemporary art to postwar abstract painting to Roman architecture. coursera.org
Smarthistory Smarthistory is one of the most-visited art history resources on the planet, offering a combination of essays, articles, and videos for beginners and experts, created by those knowledgeable in the field. The website covers an impressive variety of subject matter, from prehistory to the present day with a focus on every part of the world, from Africa to Asia. smarthistory.org