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).
John Berger’s Ways of Seeing (1972)
All in the Best Possible Taste (2012)
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.
What did you find useful when you were studying Art History? Let me know in the comments below!