The 10 Best Art History Textbooks

video play icon 10 Best Art History Textbooks

This wiki has been updated 16 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 recommendations, we may earn commissions to help fund the Wiki.

1. Gardner's Art Through the Ages

2. History of Modern Art

3. A History of Art in Africa

Editor's Notes

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 It replaced Ways of Seeing, which felt outdated having been initially published in 1972, and is focused on perspectives and how people process art rather than its history.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long overdue, A History of Art in Africa looks to portray African art in a respectful framework that dispels with old, outdated colonial mindsets and perspectives that distort them.

Special Honors

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.

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.

4. Art: A Visual History

5. Nineteenth Century Art

6. Asian Art

7. Art History

8. Janson's History of Art

9. Art: A World History

10. The Annotated Mona Lisa

Gia Vescovi-Chiordi
Last updated by Gia Vescovi-Chiordi

Born in Arizona, Gia is a writer and autodidact who fled the heat of the desert for California, where she enjoys drinking beer, overanalyzing the minutiae of life, and channeling Rick Steves. After arriving in Los Angeles a decade ago, she quickly nabbed a copywriting job at a major clothing company and derived years of editing and proofreading experience from her tenure there, all while sharpening her skills further with myriad freelance projects. In her spare time, she teaches herself French and Italian, has earned an ESL teaching certificate, traveled extensively throughout Europe and the United States, and unashamedly devours television shows and books. The result of these pursuits is expertise in fashion, travel, beauty, literature, textbooks, and pop culture, in addition to whatever obsession consumes her next.

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