“A series of small things brought together”: Things I Found Useful When I Did My Art History Degree

The world of university-level art history can be a bewildering place for new students and/or those from backgrounds where the study of art history is not the norm. Recently, I shared a post on What I Wish I’d Known When I Started My Art History Degree. I was surprised by its popularity, so after some thought, I’ve gathered together some of the things I found useful when I did my art history degree. In fact, I still find all of the below resources useful and interesting.

The year is 2009. I am sitting in a lecture theatre, at my first lecture for my degree in Art History at the University of Sussex. I’m only 19, and I’ve just finished a gap year working in a shop to save up to go to university. Other than family trips to museums and galleries in holidays, joining the art club at school, a plethora of art books at home, and some short courses taken by family members when I was a child, no-one in my immediate family has had any formal, extensive art historical education.

The first lecture is an introductory lecture, and there’s a lot to take in. Where on earth do I start? What books do I need to buy? What websites should I be looking at? What on earth is a blog – and do they even have them about art history?

Those feelings of being thrown into the deep end and having a baptism of fire in my first weeks taking art history at university are not unusual, I now realise. But for some students, particularly those from backgrounds not normally exposed to formal art historical education (state schools, socioeconomically deprived areas, working/lower middle class families, student parents, and mature students), it can feel unusual. It can also feel very isolating.

So, after a lot of thought, I’ve gathered together some of the stuff I’ve found really useful over the years. Some of it is stuff recommended by particularly enlightened lecturers, other stuff is from research for assessments, and yet more is stuff I’ve found entirely by accident (which is often the best stuff of all). I’ve divided the below loosely into books, TV/films, podcasts, blogs, and websites.


John Berger, Ways of Seeing (London: Penguin, 2008).

John Berger, About Looking (London: Bloomsbury, 2009).

James Hall, Dictionary of Subject and Symbols in Art (Boulder, Colorado: Westview Press, 2007).

Stuart Hall (ed.), Representation: Cultural Representations and Signifying Practices (London: Sage, 2013).

Nicholas Mirzoeff, How to See the World (London: Penguin, 2015).

Linda Nochlin, Women, Art and Power and Other Essays (Boulder, Colorado: Westview Press, 1989).
________________, The Politics of Vision: Essays on Nineteenth Century Art and Society (Boulder, Colorado: Westview Press, 1991).
Grayson Perry, Playing to the Gallery: Helping Contemporary Art in its Struggle to Be Understood (London: Penguin, 2016).
Griselda Pollock, Differencing the Canon: Feminism and the Writing of Arts Histories (London: Routledge, 1999).
Gillian Rose, Visual Methodologies: An Introduction to the Interpretation of Visual Materials: An Introduction to the Interpretation of Visual Methods (London: Sage, 2006).
Susan Sontag, On Photography (London: Penguin, 1979).
Marita Sturken and Lisa Cartwright, Practices of Looking: An Introduction to Visual Culture (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2017).


John Berger’s Ways of Seeing (1972)

Civilisations (2018)

All in the Best Possible Taste (2012)

BBC iPlayer – Arts

BBC iPlayer – History

Documentaries by Mary Beard, Lucy Worsley, Dan Jones, Janina Ramirez, Alistair Sooke, Andrew Graham-Dixon, Helen Castor and Suzannah Lipscomb are all very good too.



Art Detective


Art History Blogger

Costume Historian

Making A Mark

Grumpy Art Historian

Art History News by Bendor Grosvenor


Art UK

Google Scholar

Internet Archive Digital Library

The Art Newspaper

Guardian – Culture

Financial Times – Arts

What did you find useful when you were studying Art History? Let me know in the comments below!

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