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An invaluable handbook for undergraduates of art history, Look! The Fundamentals of Art History will enable students to get the most from their survey course. in a clear and engaging style, Anne D'Alleva empowers readers to approach their coursework with confidence and energy.
The book introduces two basic art historical methods—formal analysis and contextual analysis—revealing how to use these methods in class discussion and in written work. There is also valuable advice on writing art-history papers, with real examples examined to highlight common strengths and weaknesses, and to show how to develop an argument convincingly. To help students prepare for exams, D'Alleva explains the most effective methods of note-taking and outlines strategies for reviewing images. Finally, D'Alleva provides a fascinating view of the study of art history within its historical context, which will be particularly helpful for those considering majoring or minoring in this rewarding discipline.
I wrote this book primarily to help undergraduates—like you!—navigate their way through introductory art-history surveys. As you probably already realize, introductory art history can be simultaneously exciting and challenging for both instructors and students. These courses cover a dazzling array of artworks from prehistory to the present and offer provocative new ways to think about key moments in human history and many different cultural practices. Unfortunately, precisely because the course is so packed with interesting material, we instructors don't always spend enough time teaching our students how to deal with that material, either conceptually (in learning to think like art historians) or practically (in terms of the papers you need to produce and the exam questions you need to answer).
Look! does just that. It starts out by providing a basic introduction to art history as an academic discipline. It then introduces the fundamental methods of art history, the formal and contextual analysis of works of art. It goes on to provide guidelines to writing good papers and exams, and provides suggestions on effective note-taking. Finally, it includes a brief overview of the history of art history, so that you'll understand how the discipline evolved and why it asks the kind of questions that it does.
I've tried to orient Look! toward the kinds of visual images and issues discussed in introductory classes. You'll notice that most of the illustrations also appear in one or more of the major survey texts used in such courses (Honour and Fleming, Janson, Gardner, Stokstad, Abrams, etc.). The sample paperassignments and exam questions included here come from material I've used in my own courses. The examples of student writing have been only lightly edited for grammar and length—these are real-life responses to real-life exams and paper assignments. Because Look! is a handbook and resource, it's not necessarily a book that you'll read through from beginning to end (although in an ideal world you probably would!). There are lots of different ways to use it effectively, but I'll offer a few suggestions here.
Chapter One: Introducing Art History provides a basic introduction to the discipline. It's a good idea to read this fairly early on in your course—maybe in conjunction with your instructor's introductory classes—so you'll be firmly grounded in the goals of the course and the discipline.
I also recommend reading Chapter Two: The Fundamentals of Interpretation: Formal and Contextual Analysis, early in your studies, because it provides an introduction to two basic art historical methods—formal analysis and contextual analysis. You'll see your professor doing both these things in class, and this chapter shows you various ways to develop these processes so that you can then use the methods in class discussion and in writing papers and exams. Chapter Two will also be helpful when you're writing papers.
Save Chapter Three: Writing Art History Papers until you're preparing to start your first paper assignment. You'll probably consult it repeatedly as you're working on your paper.
You may want to read the parts of Chapter Four: Navigating Art History Examinations that deal with note-taking early on in your course. Read the parts about exams when you're starting to review images. (By the way, I recommend reviewing images every week, not just in the few days before the exam.)
Chapter Five: Art History's Own History is the kind of chapter you'll read or browse through when you're not under time pressure to study for an exam or read a paper (unless, of course, you're procrastinating . . .). It gives you a larger perspective on the discipline of art history, which you may find especially interesting if you're thinking about majoring or minoring in art history.
However you approach this book, you should read actively, picking and choosing the parts of the text that are useful for you. Art history is about looking critically and analyzing what you see, and this book is no exception. My sense is that different students, depending on their backgrounds, will have very different experiences of the book. Although some things will seem simple to you, keep looking, because you're likely to come up with something you didn't know.
This book's structure is simple. Each chapter starts with a short introductory paragraph that provides a brief list of the chapter's main aims and ends with a short concluding paragraph that summarizes what you should have learnt. Throughout the book, you'll find boxed texts that take up specific points in depth. You don't have to read these boxed texts to make sense of the main text, but they may be interesting and helpful anyway. The captions to the photographs provide basic information and sometimes more extended comments about the pieces illustrated. Again, these comments may be interesting and informative, but you don't have to read them to make sense of the image or the main text. The bibliography at the end of the book list works that I've used in writing this book, and also some other works that you may find helpful. In addition to the standard glossary and index, there's also a table of parallel illustrations in art-history surveys showing where to find the illustrations in this book, or comparable images, in the major art-history textbooks.
Good luck with your work! Art history has been a wonderful (and, yes, sometimes frustrating) part of my life since I was a first-year college student. I hope you'll experience some of the same rewards and pleasures that I have had as an art historian.