Art Classes/Courses

What Are The Best Books To Learn About Art History?

I had a friend who told me that she felt she didn’t know enough about art and asked me what she could read to find out more.  She had been on a recent holiday to Rome and admitted that she ‘didn’t know anything about the art‘ and felt she should know more. Some books came to mind that are really informative for an overview of art history and great for beginners, so I thought I would share them…

This list is no way the best books for everyone, more my favourites and ones that I think are really essential for understanding art history.

The Art Book  – Adam Butler 

A Landmark Book that gives you an overview

This book is essential reading for anyone who wants an overview or a reference guide to hundreds of artists over time.  It gives you an A-Z of painters and sculptors spanning a massive time period from medieval to modern times.  Each artist has a full page explaining key works, what movement they are part of and any techniques they are known for.

It’s the ultimate crash course in art history for dummies!


The Shock of the New: Art and the Century of Change – Robert Hughes 

A classic text for modern art

Another classic text the staple of all art students, this books gives an excellent overview of modern art.  It explains many of the modern art movements such as Dada, Bauhaus, Surrealism, Modernism, Expressionism, Pop Art and more.  It gives you a good idea of how each one influenced the other and the key artists within the movements.


The Story of Art – E.H Gombrich

This is another good overview book which will help you understand the way art has evolved and which movements happened in what time periods.

This book has been around a very long time, it is a key text and remains popular.  It is quite easy to read and has lots of images which I like.

It is more narrative than ‘The Art Book’ which is more like a reference directory, this book gives a bit more detail about how each art movement evolved.

These books are great for anyone who wants a quick overview, the next stage would be to read specific books about periods in art or art movements or indeed specific artists.  I think it is always useful to have an overview before you get into specifics so these books are a good place to start.

Do you agree? Are there any books you would recommend? Share below…

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