Arsifa Deliyana

Home » Visual Cultures » Intro to Visual Cultures: History of Art

Intro to Visual Cultures: History of Art



Learning Visual Cultures means learning the history. Me, as FADM (Faculty of Art, Design & Media) student, am interested in knowing the history of art deeply. That’s why, in this post, I’d like to share the history of art and the art historians. It is important  to know the history, because we can learn from it to make a better life.

This post is just like a developing idea of what I’ve read from “Art Through Ages: What is Art History”. I put it in short and understandable explanation.


What is Art History?

People tend to think of history as the record and interpretation of past human actions and think of art as something that they can see and touch. Whereas, art history is term used to represent the historical development of art within its style in certain period. Art historians write a history based on the whole chronology, because art history requires knowledge of the historical contexts of an artwork (or a building). They considered and put physical, documentary, internal and stylistic evidences as the core to start writing the history.


The Questions Art Historians Ask

How old is it? What is its style? What is its subject? Who made it? Who paid for it? Those all questions are the basic things asked by art historians.

From the reading “Art Through Ages: What is Art History”, I can know that it is important to not only know about aesthetic value of artworks, but also its history, including knowing how old it is, what style the artist used to make the subject of drawings, and the reason artist made up their works. Art historians could know how old an art subject or a buildings by certain methodological research.

Artistic style birth as in different period, regional, and personal style. Period style states the distinctive of artistic manner of specific era. For instance, Archaic Greek or High Renaissance. Regional style tied to geographical differentiation. It is shown in Egyptian Statue to the Greece or Mexico style. While, personal style is a distinctive manner of individual artists or architects. Art historian must distinguish among the different period style of particular arts.

The subject of art is the artwork itself – its colors, texture, composition, and size. For example, iconography (study of symbol) as written images is a historical art in pre-history. Art historians put the subject of iconography into various categories, they are: religious, historical, genre, portraiture, landscape, and their numerous subdivision and combination. For example, iconography in Greece culture. God is symbolized in man picture.

Who made it? Art historians know the artist who create the artworks, such as paintings by indicate the sign on it. How about unknown art subject? Say it an anonymous painting. They analyzed the style, time or period, and similarity of the painting to another paintings. Then, they attributed anonymous works to known artist, either assemble it in a group as a school. School here means a group of artists work in the same style at the same time and place.

Artists made their works with certain reasons. One of the reason is they had payed for it. Patrons,  those who paid the artist to make individual works, took dominant role in deciding how the artist represent the subject, e.g portraiture.


The Words Art Historians Use

How to put unlisted thing such as art in words is the task of  art historians. That is way they need to have vocabulary as guidance to write the history. The vocabulary stated as symbolization of meaning. These are the words used by them: form and composition; material and technique; line; color; space, mass, and volume; texture; perspective and foreshortening; proportion and scale; carving and casting; relief sculpture; and architecture and drawing.


Art History & other Disciplines and Different Ways of Seeing

Art historians bend together with other specialist in many fields of knowledge, not only in the humanistic, but also in the social and natural sciences. This lead the different perspective in seeing an history of art. There might me more ways of seeing in one object. The way of seeing chosen must seek to present a history of art that will help reader to understand the subjects in cultural and historical contexts.


Reference: Kleiner, Fred. 2009. Gardner’s Art through the Ages: A Global History.


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