Want to impress your art history major friends? Want to avoid being intimidated by a date who’s more knowledgeable about art than you?
Today, we’re sharing some of the things beginners should know about art history, including the basic things you should learn before checking out a museum – or attending a virtual painting class party with Paint and Sip LIVE.
Art Movements & Eras
You’ve probably heard of terms like renaissance art, cubism, impressionism, and post-impressionism.
If you’re like most people, however, then it’s hard to place these terms in your head without a timeline.
Different art terms refer to different periods of history. Impressionism took place from 1860 to 1890, for example, and led to the rise of post-impressionism from 1890 to 1910.
Some of the most important art movements and eras to know about include:
Pre-1300s: Medieval art
1300 to 1600: Renaissance art
1600 to 1730: Baroque art
1780 to 1880: Romanticism
1860 to 1890: Impressionism
1890 to 1910: Post-impressionism
1905 to 1930: Expressionism
1910 to 1940: Art deco
1945 to Present: Cotemporary art
Art historians frequently disagree about eras. Some break down eras into sub-eras. Some place artists into different eras. Some think eras are ridiculous and abstract ways to separate the art world.
Ancient Art Matters
Some art historians begin their timeline thousands of years before the eras above. We have evidence of people painting caves in the stone age, for example, 30,000 years ago. This was art, and these people were painters.
As history progressed, art progressed as well. Egyptian, Greek, and Roman art became more complex, paving the way for the best-known artists we see centuries later.
Stone Age Art (30,000 to 4,500 Years Ago): Painters painted caves, fertility goddesses, wildlife, hunting scenes, and more throughout the Ice Age, the stone age, and the new stone age. We see evidence of this art in the Lascaux Cave Paintings in France, Stonehenge, and other ancient scenes around the world.
Egyptian Art (5,000 to 2,000 Years Ago): Egyptian art emphasized the afterlife, as evidenced by the intricate art around tombs and pyramids.
Greek Art (3,000 to 2,000 Years Ago): Ancient Greeks focused on proportions and architectural art. We still have plenty of examples of Greek art visible today – like the Parthenon.
Roman Art (2,500 to 1,500 Years Ago): Romans emphasized realism and practical art. They created arches and walls, for example, and built the foundation of western civilization with their rules of order and proportions.
Indian, Chinese, and Japanese Art (2,500 Years Ago to Present): Indian, Chinese, and Japanese art are often lumped together in basic art history timelines. All three civilizations focused on serene and meditative art guided by a Buddhist influence.
Byzantine and Islamic Art (1,500 to 500 Years Ago): Islamic and Byzantine art emphasized proportions, maze-like designs, and shapes.
As we progressed into the middle ages, the renaissance, and later periods, art grew into what we know and love today.
How Art Historians Criticize Art
Another challenging part of art history is analyzing art that is thousands of years old. Artists were using vastly different materials in much different contexts.
To criticize art, art historians rely on facts more than many people realize.
Art historians examine the cultural context of the art, the societal factors that led to the creation of the art, and the time period during which the art was created.
Art historians also complete formal visual analysis of art, judging the technical nature of the work.
Of course, art historians also subjectively analyze art. Some art historians favor a certain piece, believing it to be an important cultural relic. Other art historians disagree.
Formal Analysis in Art History
Formal analysis plays a crucial role in art history. Art historians analyze the elements of the piece, including:
Line: The use of horizontal lines, vertical lines, diagonal lines, and curved lines indicate different things in a piece. Straight lines indicate stability and form, while diagonal lines can convey feelings of movement. A curved line can be indicative of the human body.
Shape and Form: Shape is the height and width of the object in the painting. Form is the depth of the object along with its width and height. Some pieces have geometric shapes and forms – like straight lines and 90 degree edges. Others have organic shapes and forms – like leaves or humans.
Space: Pieces have positive or negative space, three-dimensional space, and other uses of space to give it a feeling of depth. Space can refer to the artist’s use of area within the picture plane. How does the artist convey space?
Color: Color is the way light reflects off objects. Art historians use hue, value, and intensity to describe colors.
Texture: Texture is the surface quality of an object that we sense through touch. A two-dimensional painting could convey the idea of texture. You might imagine how the painting feels. A sculpture might have physical texture – it might be rough or smooth.
Art as Cultural Artifacts
Another important point about art history is to view art as cultural artifacts – not just standalone pieces.
Art is linked to the historical era and the civilization in which it was made. It gives us crucial insight into how people were thinking at that time.
Sure, someone might have sat down to sculpt a cat 2,000 years ago without thinking of the historical impact – but today, when viewed through the lens of time, that art becomes a genuine cultural artifact.
Create Your Own Art History with Paint and Sip LIVE Today
Much of art history focuses on the context of the work.
Someone could be viewing your art 2,000 years from now and determining the cultural relevance of your work! Think of that the next time you sign up for a Paint and Sip LIVE class.