Best Art History Books 2022 Art Students Should Read

Best Art History Books

You’re looking for the Best Art History Books to read? So you NEED to see this curated list.

Art history could be intimidating. Composed of innumerable movements, artists, mediums, and fashions, diving into the in-depth analysis might appear daunting.

But with the outstanding book collection, you will realize that comprehension of art history isn’t just possible but amazingly attainable. After all, as Ralph Waldo Emerson famously maintained, every artist was first an amateur.

Therefore, whether you are considering a career in arts management, an artist seeking to find out more about your clinic’s narrative, or just interested in art’s development, these must have books for budding art historians rely on your shelf!

Why Is It Important To Study Art History?

books about history of art

Understanding and appreciating art history can make you a better artist. It will help you understand, appreciate, and appreciate your past work.

All art forms have seen tremendous changes over the past 100 years. Revolutions that challenged every aspect of artistic creation.

We had periods of Fauvism in visual arts. Artists used colors in new and challenging ways. Cubism was where basic shapes and relationships were broken down.

Abstract Art was where paintings didn’t need to represent or portray anything. Dadaism was where things got even more bizarre. A toilet seat hanging in a museum might be considered fine art and important.

These are only four examples of the many modern art trends and schools that have shattered our notions and practices of art. Eventually, art did not need to look like anything.

We could no longer use color theory, composition perspective, or essential representation. It is as if all art history, thousands of years, was gone.

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Here is a list of the best books about art history that Penn Book recommended reading:

The Story of Art by E.H. Gombrich

E.H. Gombrich, the author of this book about history of art, observes at the beginning that there is no such thing as art. This statement sets the tone for what has become one of art history’s most acclaimed tomes.

Gombrich avoids broad discussions about movements or concepts and focuses instead on the individual pieces of art and their creators. This includes male painters from the West, with a few exceptions.

Gombrich, an art historian, takes a remarkable stand by arguing that art history can both obscure and elucidate the experience of art through information beyond the act of seeing.

Gombrich links artists such as Raphael, Cezanne, and other artists across time. He insists that they all faced similar challenges in doing their work and that the artist’s intentions matter.


The Collins Big Book of Art: From Cave Art to Pop Art by David G. Wilkins

This gorgeous coffee table book introduces the world of art to all those who have a limited to no understanding of this topic. It crosses the art history from cave paintings to the Renaissance to Impressionism to Pop Art. Comprising over 1,200 works of art worldwide, every piece is tagged with the date, state, name, artist, substances, dimensions, and present site.

The Lives of the Artists by Giorgio Vasari

Italian painter, architect, historian, and author Giorgio Vasari are chiefly famous for two reasons: he coined the expression Renaissance and composed The Lives of the Artists.

Inspired by many to be the first important book on the artwork, this text presents a romantic and contemporary look at the lifestyles and work of Italian Renaissance artists, from Giotto and Brunelleschi to Leonardo, Michelangelo, and Raphael.

This variant is annotated, making it ideal for those interested in knowing more about this legendary artwork motion.

Art: A World History by Elke Linda Buchholz, Susanne Kaeppele, et al.

(Best modern art history book)

This pocket sized background of the art book covers everything from prehistoric to modern art. Within the webpage, you will discover over 900 images of their most well known artworks.

You will get a thorough grasp of the painting of each period by reading this book. It is among the essential art history books for novices and creates a handy reference manual. You may take it everywhere; it is especially helpful when in an art gallery or on travel.

Gardner’s Art Through The Ages: A Global History by Fred S. Kleiner

You’ve probably read through Gardner’s books if you have ever taken an art history class. It is not easy to pack the entire history of art in one or two books, but the text’s accessibility and the large amount of work make it one of the most essential nonfiction art history books.

This second volume of this book follows the late medieval period in Italy through modern art. Simple to comprehend vernacular, followed by magnificent color examples, make Kleiner’s 14th version of the planet’s most popular English language art history book a must have for any history student.

This volume continues where Kleiner’s first volume left off and contains chapters concerning the current account of art in China, Africa, Japan, Korea, and Southeast Asia.

Art History, Combined Volume by Marilyn Stokstad, Michael W. Cothren

This joint and condensed version of Marilyn Stokstad’s well known art history offers students an easy to comprehend guide to art history. Including contextual and formal analyses of artworks in their historical, political, and societal circumstance, Stokstad manages to engross viewers with casual verbiage and dazzling skill.

Perfect for first year students of this topic, this art book covers the fundamentals of the history of art from across the globe, including French impressionism and African American artwork to modernism and cultural customs.


Read also: Best American History Books of All Time Review 2022

Women, Art, And Society By Whitney Chadwick

Suppose you are looking for a concise, dense study on women as authors and objects in art. It’s straightforward and clear, and it provides a comprehensive overview of Western art.

Chadwick does an excellent job explaining how politics and social standards have influenced the way women make art and how these changes were portrayed in art.

Make the lavishly illustrated for these changes and their consequences, she uses biographies of individuals. It is also highly accessible, which is crucial to make art history more accessible.

The Diary Of Frida Kahlo: An Intimate Self-Portrait by Carlos Fuentes

The Diary is a biography that also includes a facsimile of Kahlo’s journals. Fuentes provides translations and complete images of Kahlo’s sketchbook and Diary.

Fuentes provides commentary and contextualizes the artist’s life and art within her pages. It is a controversial but informative look into the life of an artist through her eyes and that of art historians.


The Books that Shaped Art History by Richard Shone and Jean-Paul Stonard

Although a book about art history is meta, this complete collection of short essays covering the last century milestones of the category reminds us how closely art developments are linked to changes in their study.

This book brings together a broad range of top scholars and curators. It examines 12 tomes that introduced critical concepts to the field. They start with Religious Art in 13th Century France by Emile Male, published in 1898.

Male’s book, one of the first to study medieval art, also used iconography to reveal the meaning of images. Heinrich Wolfflin’s Principles of Art History (1915) was another book that established the standard way of comparing artworks based on style. Although it takes a deep dive into the subject, this is a fascinating look at art and writing.

The Duchamp Dictionary by Thames & Hudson

Marcel Duchamp is a significant figure in modern art. Understanding Marcel Duchamp’s practice is crucial to have a clear understanding the past century’s art, given his immense influence.

The Duchamp Dictionary, by Thomas Girst, is a great way to understand the avant garde ideas of the artist. It features 59 photos and short alphabetical dictionary entries that help you learn more about his legacy clear and engaging way.

Show Time: The 50 Most Influential Exhibitions of Contemporary Art by Jens Hoffmann, Hans Ulrich Obrist, et al.

This book was published in 2014. Jens Hoffmann, Curator, Director, and Head of Exhibitions & Public Programs at The Jewish Museum, has compiled a list that he believes triggered profound changes to curatorial practice and reanimated contemporary art since 1990.


Art, Second Edition: A Visual History by Robert Cumming (2020)

Cumming created a visual history to art to help his readers understand art. He encourages them to look at art closely and then read about it.

This book is richly illustrated, featuring artists from all walks of art. The book includes a glossary covering the principal art movements, themes, styles, and techniques.

It is also a helpful reference book. It combines elements of What Great Paintings Speak with Techniques of Great Masters of Art, delivered with the knowledgeable enthusiasm of Beckett and Gombrich.

Art Since 1900 by Hal Foster, Rosalind Krauss, et al.

This book, compiled by October contributors, an art critical quarterly well known for its dense writing and difficult writing, was published in 2005 to correct the standard art histories while being more accessible.

The book maintains October’s poststructuralist attitude and thorny approach. It is also skeptical of the idea that art can transcend time.

The book does not follow the evolution of modernism, anti-modernism, and post modernism through artists and movements. Instead, it treats 20th century art as a textual deconstruction, with brief essays tied to specific cultural or historical events.

The book begins with Sigmund Fréud’s Interpretation of Dreams and the 50th Venice Biennale. These events may be of significance to you, but art Since 1900 is an excellent example of the non-hierarchical discourse prevalent today.

Immanent Vitalities: Meaning And Materiality In Modern And Contemporary Art by Kaira Cabañas

This is a simple read. No. It is nonetheless exciting and thought provoking. Dr. Cabanas is an excellent example of how art historians can combine multiple histories and theories to examine art and innovation.

Her main areas of interest are modernism, surrealism, and Latin American art. This is a fascinating discussion on power art and might appeal to those interested in the avant garde and modern South American art scenes.

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Classical Art: From Greece to Rome by Mary Beard and John Henderson

Although the book’s second half of the title implies a study that starts with Ancient Greece, the later civilization is really what it is about. It claims that ancient art would not have survived to inspire the Renaissance without the Roman Empire.

The writers say Greek aesthetics were transmitted to Rome, which created the groundwork for Western art. They also assert that Romans did not copy Greek art but reinterpreted and reinvented it.

The book’s five chapters discuss monuments, portraits, sculptures, and paintings while pointing out the importance of love for sex, power, and posterity in their pursuit. Trips to archeological sites like Pompeii investigate how recent discoveries continue to pique our interest in ancient artifacts while pointing out that their survival is ultimately a matter of luck.

Janson’s History of Art Book (9th edition) by Penelope J.E. Davies, et al.

Horst Woldemar Janson’s massive book has been the standard text for Art History 101 classes worldwide for more than 60 years. It promised a thorough survey of architecture, sculpture, and painting from the birth of civilization to the present.

Except for one glaring omission: female performers, it delivered for the most part. According to the book’s Mad Men period origins, Janson didn’t think any of them were worthy of serious consideration, a bias he held until he died in 1982.

Though his name was still in the title, a 2006 edit essentially wiped Janson out of his book. While previously overlooked fields (photography and decorative art) were included, and, eventually, female artists, works hailed as classics (such as James McNeill Whistler’s 1871 picture Arrangement in Grey and Black No.1, often known as Whistler’s Mother) were omitted.

Additionally, it did away with Janson’s emphasis on the brilliance of the male artist in favor of a more thorough interpretation that included race, class, and gender. This most current version, released in 2013, has a separate chapter devoted to Islamic art.

Art That Changed the World: Transformative Art Movements and the Paintings That Inspired Them by DK

The world can be influenced by art. This book examines the work of more than 700 artists who had the most significant influence on the world beyond art. This book features well known artists like Michelangelo.

Learn about the vision of each artist and view examples of their greatest works. You can also learn how they influenced art movements.

This book covers various artists, making it one of the most comprehensive art history textbooks. This book will help you gain a deeper understanding of the history and evolution of each art movement. This book will give you profound insight into the influence of each direction on the other.

History of Modern Art by H.H. Arnason

H.H. Arnason’s History of Modern Art, which spans more than 650 pages, may seem intimidating. Yet, since its publication in 1968, it has functioned as the fundamental survey of 20th-century art. The novel opened in 19th-century Paris when ideas like “art for art’s sake” and painters like Manet, Monet, Gaugin, Van Gogh, Seurat, and Cezanne launched modernism.

It continues by listing the significant movements that have influenced recent painting, sculpture, and architecture, including Cubism, Dada, the Bauhaus, Surrealism, Abstract Expressionism, and Pop Art. The book recounts the tale of a revolutionary period that changed the way we think about the world and the role that art plays in it via abundant graphics and understandable prose.

History of Modern Art, now in its sixth edition, has often been updated to cover the most recent creative innovations as the 20th century gives way to the 21st.

The Art Book by Phaidon

The one coffee table book you need in your collection is Phaidon’s A-to-Z directory of artists throughout history, which is cleverly and opulently constructed.

The 500 painters in the book, whose works span the Middle Ages to the present day, all get the same opulent treatment: a nearly full-page, full-color reproduction of a significant piece produced with meticulous attention to detail. Some are more well-known than others. A short textual description of the relevant artist’s career for each entry is presented in simple, understandable language.

Every page in this book is breathtaking, and since the artists are listed alphabetically, each spread features unexpected pairings of different artistic movements and periods, such as one that features the 17th-century Dutch painter Hendrick ter Brugghen and the modern French conceptualist Daniel Buren.

The Art Book includes a variety of media in addition to painting, including sculpture, photography, video, and installation art.

Classical Art: From Greece to Rome by Mary Beard and John Henderson

Best For Art Enthusiasts

The title’s second half suggests that the book begins with Ancient Greece. However, the book is actually more about this civilization.

The Oxford History of Art series provides academic insight into particular art periods through expertly written texts and high quality full color illustrations. Each book explores how the period in question can be seen differently. Classical Art: From Greece to Rome is one example of this series.

Beard and Henderson offer a new perspective on Classical Art, with expert analysis and detailed discussion about the development and influence of Classical art.

The excellent illustrations are a valuable visual reference tool for both period specialists and students. This book covers almost every period of art history you can imagine.

African-American Art by Sharon F. Patton

African-American art and the Black experience between the early 18th and late 20th centuries are related in Sharon F. Patton’s 1998 overview. Beginning with slavery, Patton discusses plantation architecture and how African influences influenced the homes enslaved people in the southern states created for themselves.

Patton then discusses the influence of significant occurrences like the Civil War, Reconstruction, and the Great Migration on art produced by African-Americans in the 19th century’s folk and decorative arts.

Finally, the author examines how movements like the New Negro movement of the 1920s, Black Nationalism of the 1960s and 1970s, and identity politics of the 1990s helped to shape African-American aesthetics throughout the 20th century.

Art in Theory 1900–2000 by Charles Townsend Harrison and Paul Wood

This book investigates the particular emphasis on theory that 20th-century art has, as the title suggests. Aesthetic discussions in the era before what is now recognized as modern art was primarily concerned with technique.

For instance, disputes over whether line or color was more crucial to painting during the late 18th and early 19th centuries in the French Academy between two groups, the Poussinistes, named for the 17th-century neoclassicist Nicholas Poussin, and the Reubenites, named for Poussin’s senior contemporary Peter Paul Rubens.

But modernism developed a whole philosophy for fundamentally altering art, moving it from “the outskirts of public awareness to the core of the cultural economy,” as Charles Harrison and Paul Wood argue. This transition from Post-Impressionism to Postmodernism is well captured by Harrison and Wood.



The best art history books provide a comprehensive overview of the field while offering detailed examinations of specific periods or artists. A good art history book will be both informative and engaging, offering readers a new perspective on the world of art. Thank you for reading!

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Last update on 2022-09-30 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API

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