An unofficial introduction to art history (new series!)

Here is a disclaimer: I’m a Classicist and an Ancient Historian. But I did art history in high school, and I enjoyed it, and I did pretty well.

Art history has an aura of elitism that is both irritating and disheartening. Art itself seems to be becoming ever more accessible, but the study of it still has connotations of ponytailed models in vintage dresses poring over coffee table books.

But it’s not like that. It’s interesting.

Art history has its roots in observation, just as English has roots in close reading of the written word. Its particular brand of observation is ‘visual analysis’, sometimes called formal analysis. This comes before discussion of the trends and influences on each art work, and especially before interpretation. It involves breaking down the work into various parts, and requires close observation and good description. It is not overly complicated, but it does require a level of practice to train your eye into noticing each level of detail.

The relevant elements are, in no specific order: Colour, form, space and depth, symbols and icons, composition, setting, medium, size, light, and context. This series is going to run through the technique of visual analysis, dealing with each of these elements in turn. Hopefully, I’ll follow up with a couple of case studies. (I’ll admit it, this is partly an excuse to keep my own hand in.)

So: is anyone keen?

featured image: Jēkabs Kazaks, Ladies at the Seaside.


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