Introduction to Art History

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I've adapted this from an original presentation that wasn't mine; adding a few more slides. Serves as an excellent introduction to Art History and its methodology.

Transcript of Introduction to Art History

  • Introduction to Art History
    Art History Starter Kit and Methodology
    Magister Ricard
    Somerset Academy 2009-2010
  • Slide Contents
    What is Art? Its Purpose and Its Function
    Fundamentals of Interpretation: Formal and Contextual Analysis
    Principles of Design: Style
  • Leonardo da Vinci
    Mona Lisa
    Oil on poplar
    c. 1503
  • Claude Monet
    Impression, Sunrise
    Oil on canvas
  • Andy Warhol
    Screen print
  • What is Art?
    Art (art), n. 1. the quality, production, or expression of what is beautiful, appealing, or of more than ordinary significance
    Work of art = visual expression of an idea
    Medium = a particular material, along with its accompanying technique (plural = media)
  • Popular Media
    Paint media
    Acrylic, Enamel, Gesso, Glaze, Ink, Oil, Tempera, Watercolor
    Used on: Canvas, Cloth, Glass, Metal, Paper, Wood
    Drawing media
    Chalk pastel, Charcoal, Colored pencil, Marker, Oil pastel, Pen and ink
    Sculpture materials
    Beads, Clay, Found objects, Jewels, Marble, Metals, Papier-mache, Plaster, Plastic, Sand, Stone, Textile, Wax, Wire, Wood
  • Medium: Watercolor
    Thomas Girtin
    Jedburgh Abbey from the River. 1798-99. Watercolor on paper.
  • What is History?
    History (his-tuh-ree), n. 1. the branch of knowledge dealing with past events. 2. a continuous, systematic narrative of past events as relating to a particular people, country, period, person, etc., usually written as a chronological account; chronicle: a history of France; a medical history of the patient.
    economic realities
    historical events
    social dynamics
    religious and spiritual organizations
    technological advancements
  • Purposes and Functions of Art
    Communicating information
    In non-literate societies, art was used for teaching
    Today, photography, film & television are used for disseminating information
  • Purposes and Functions of Art
    Spiritual Sustenance
    All of the worlds major religions have used art to inspire and instruct the faith
  • Purposes and Functions of Art
    Personal & Cultural Expression
  • Purposes and Functions of Art
    Social & Political Purposes
    Artist have criticized or influenced values or public opinion
    Often it is clear & direct
    Other times, it is less obvious
    Monarchs who commissioned projects to symbolize their strength & power
  • Social & Political Influences
    Paul Revere
    The Bloody Massacre perpetrated in King Street, Boston, Massachusetts. 1770. Engraving.
    Louis Le Vau and Jules Hardouin-Mansar
    Palais de Versailles, Versailles, France. 1668-85.
  • II. Fundamentals of Interpretation:
    Formal and Contextual Analysis
  • Art = Form + Content
    In the most basic way art can be thought of as having two parts:
    its form
    its content
    Form relates to the formal aspects of art or how the art is made.
    Content relates to the subject of the art.
  • Formal Analysis of Painting
    Looking at a work of art to try to understand what the artist wants to convey visually
    Line and Shape
    Space and Mass
  • 1. Line and Shape
    Lines define space and may create an outline or contour, as style called linear.
    They can be visible or implied
    It may be two-dimensional, three-dimensional (as with a wire), or suggested or implied.
    Wherever there is an edge, the place where one object or plane appears to end and other object or space
  • 2. Color
    Color is the event of wavelengths of light hitting an object and those wavelengths reflecting back into your eyes.
    Color is also an element of art with three properties: hue, saturation, and value:
    Hue is the name of the color (e.g., red, blue, or yellow.)
    Saturation is the quality or brightness or dullness of the hue; sometimes called intensity
    Value is the degree of lightness or darkness of a hue
    On a color wheel, colors are divided into groups called primary (red, yellow & blue), secondary (orange, green & violet), and tertiary (mix of a primary & a secondary)
    Complementary or opposite are two colors directly opposite one another on the color wheel
  • 2. Color: Hues
  • 2. Color: Saturation - quality or brightness or dullness of the hue (a.k.a. intensity)
  • 2. Color: Value - degree of lightness or darkness of a hue
  • 3. Texture
    Texture is an element of art pertaining to the surface quality or feel of the work of art.
    Texture can be described as smooth, rough, soft, etc. Some textures are real and others are simulated.
    Textures that can be felt are ones that the fingers can actually touch, however, in paintings drapery and clothing often have a texture that can only be seen, as it is simulated.
  • 4. Space and Mass
    Space references to what contains objects; may be three dimensional (actual) or two dimensional (illusion)
    Mass refers to the effect and degree of bulk, density, and weight of matter in space
    In architecture or sculpture, it is the area occupied by a form
    As opposed to plane and area, Mass is used for three-dimensional objects
  • 4. Space and Mass: Perspective
    Perspective is the technique that artists use to project the illusion of three-dimensional space onto a two-dimensional surface.
    Perspective helps to create a sense of deptha sense of receding space.
    Artists achieve perspective in several different ways:
    by making objects in the foreground larger than those in the background
    by making objects at the bottom of the composition larger than those at the top
    by using lighter colors and fuzzier edges to suggest the distant objects and space
    by using mathematical or linear perspective, where the recession is directed towards a vanishing point.
  • 4. Space and Mass: Foreshortening
    Foreshortening is way of representing an object so that it conveys the illusion of depthan object appears to be thrust forward or back into space.
    Foreshortening succeeds particularly well when the near and far parts of the object contrast greatly.
    Picture Space makes use of foreground, middle ground and background
    Andrea Mantegna, The Lamentation over the Dead Christ, c. 1490 CE
  • 5. Composition
    How items are arranged or organized in a work of art
    Symmetrical or assymetrical
    Static or dynamic
    Consider pictorial depth (illusion) rendering 3D on 2D surface or plane (picture plane)
    Picture space is comprised of foreground, middle ground, and background and extends from beyond the picture plane
  • 5. Composition
    Composition, then, is the relationship of the parts of a painting, sculpture, or work of architecture.
    Artists consider composition when they structure the relationships of colors, lines, shapes, and masses in their art.
    Artists generally try to make the composition of their works pleasing by balancing the aforementioned relations.
    Other times, artists will use composition to be expressive in some way, for example making some aspect of their art unbalanced or asymmetrical.
  • 6. Scale
    As an art history term, scale refers to the size of the art object at hand or the size of the objects represented in a particular art object.
    Scale can also have to do with the size of a building as compared with the people who inhabit that space.
    Artists often use scale to suggest relationships between figures and landscape, figures and other figures, and/or sometimes a figures importance.
  • Movement
    Another quality an artist might utilize
    Gives lifelike feeling to a work
    Artists often search for ways to create a sense of movement, from manipulating the objects within a work to the medium itself
  • Analysis of Raphaels School of Athens
    Subject Matter/Content: It is not a school but a gathering of important Greek philosophers.
    Materials and Technique: Raphael painted in the style of fresco. Fresco means painting on wet plaster.
    Composition: The School of Athens is done in a pyramidal composition which is very characteristic of Raphael and the High Renaissance.
    Use of Color: Raphael uses mostly natural colors with lots of browns and greys. He uses some orange and blue but mostly very earthly tones. Raphael did not use bright colors because he intended the mood to be more solemn.
    Lines and Forms: Raphael gives his figures mass, bulk and weight by using perspective, drapery, chiaroscuro, and contropposto. The way the clothing of the figures falls on their bodies gives them a sense of underlying body structure. All the lines converge between Plato and Aristotle's heads which gives it the pyramidal composition. "There is also an interest in accurate body proportion, which is reminiscent of classical Greek works." (
    Sense of Movement: All characters in "The School of Athens" are doing something. This indicts a great sense of motion which is visible in the poses of the figures.
    Use of Space: Although the painting seems crowded in some parts (especially around Plato and Aristotle) Raphael creates a great sense of space. He has a vanishing point so the painting looks like it goes back forever. He also paints the figures in the foreground larger than the rest which adds to the sense of space.
  • III. Principles of Design:
  • Style
    Style refers to the consistent and characteristic handling of media, elements of form, and principles of design that make a work identifiable as the particular culture, period, region, group, or person
    Style = Form and Composition
    Makes a work distinctive!
  • Cultural Style
    Societies develop their own beliefs and style of material forms (clothing, buildings, etc)
    Artists are a product of their culture
    Standing Vishnu, 10th Century ce, India, Tamil Nadu, Tanjore region. Bronze, H. 33" Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York
  • Period Style
    Styles change over time
    Art changes because of economic & political changes, new technology, religious insight
    Sometimes a desire for something new comes along
  • Regional Style
    Geography also leads to diverse styles
    May be conscious decision or caused by a mere lack of communication over distance
    Ex: variations in Maya architecture; Hindu sculpture in India varies from North to South India; and abstract paintings produced in California differed from New York in the 1950s
  • Group Style
    Sometimes artist form alliances, exhibit together and publicize their aims as a group to promote a distinct style
    One of the best known group styles is Impressionism
  • Personal Style
    Individual artists often have characteristic modes of personal expression
  • Two Basic Forms of Style
    Seeks to create recognizable subject matter
    Seeks to capture the essence of a form, not literal representation
  • Representational Styles
    Realism the attempt to depict objects accurately, objectively
    Naturalism similar to Realism except often implies a grim subject
    Illusionism seeks to create a convincing representation or illusion of reality
  • Realism
  • Naturalism
  • Illusionism
  • Abstract Styles
    Non-representational does not produce recognizable imagery
    Expressionism Plays with subjectivity, artists own ideas/feelings or viewers ideas/feelings
    Exaggerates to get the essence of a form
  • Non-Representational
  • Expressionism
  • Websites About Art
    Chris Whitcombes web site - Dr. Whitcombe hosts the singularly best resource for art history on the Internet. (This would be my first stop if I were looking for an image or additional resources.)
    ArtLex - ArtLex is a hyperlinked dictionary of art terms, and it includes abundant examples to illustrate the meanings of terms.
    Artchive - Mark Hardens Artchive is an image resource arranged alphabetically by artist, as well as by school and/or era.
    Olgas Gallery - Like Hardens Artchive. (Dont ask me about the name.)
    Timeline of Art History (Met) - Self-explanatory
    Humanities Web - Humanities Web shows the interconnections, the web, the links, between history, the arts, and culture - and how each plays off and influences the others.