12 Best Art History Books Right Now

Best Art History Books

Are you an art history student or just a book lover looking to explore this vast yet exhilarating world of art? 

Whoever you may be, having a perfect art history book is just as important. Art history’s a broad topic that embraces almost every aspect of human history and society. From its beginning, art has always been a medium for communication and presented new views and values to the world. 

Exploring the vastness of art and its rich history can seem daunting for anyone. However, capturing the knowledge can surprisingly be very attainable with the right book in hand. As famously quoted by Ralph Waldo Emerson, “every artist was first an amateur.” 

The sheer variety of approaches taken by art historians and authors for studying visual expression can make selecting an appropriate book to meet your interests and needs quite bewildering. But don’t worry, we have curated a comprehensive list of books that have presented history through multiple lenses. 

So, without further ado, let’s get in. 

Top Art History Books 

Best art history books

1. Art That Changed the World

Art that changed the world,” written by Lorrie Mack and Caroline Bugler, is your A to Z guide to art. Through this book, the authors have tried to tell the story of every major art movement and the painting style emerging from them. It also provides a detailed visual timeline showing transitions and events that shaped art history. 

Get ready to engross yourself in the history of art through a unique guided tour. From Monet and Michelangelo to Picasso and Damien Hirst, you will get to know more than 700 most important artists. 

Discovering thousands of iconic paintings, sculptures, and other artworks by these artists, which shook the course of the art world across centuries, will be a delight for art lovers. 

By reading this book, you will learn about the rich art history and the influencing factor behind each of the existing art trends. It is a must-have piece for your bookshelf, being an indispensable piece of a reference art book for art lovers worldwide. 

2. Gardner’s Art Through The Ages

Gardner’s Art Through The Ages” is an American history of art textbook for beginners. Its latest edition (2004) was written by Christin J. Mamiya and Fred S. Kleiner, and the previous one, i.e., the 2001 edition was awarded both the Texty Award for current editions and the McGuffey award for longevity. The first edition of this book written by Helen Gardner was published in 1926.  

All its editions present the art evolution timeline chronologically, beginning from “The birth of art” in the Upper Paleolithic period, which continued to evolve until the contemporary period. Since its launch, this book has been a go-to source of knowledge for aspiring art historians. 

In fact, it’s one of the most widely read art history books that have covered each of the periods and locations in a detailed fashion. Along with that, famous artists who lived during each period and the styles they adopted have been reproduced with the highest standard of color fidelity and clarity. 

It also includes a unique scale feature that will allow you to visualize the actual size of artworks shown in the book. Also, it provides budding art historians with a unique learning experience.    

3. Art: The Definitive Visual Guide

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Art: The Definitive Visual Guide
  • Hardcover Book
  • Dixon, Andrew Graham (Author)

“Art: The Definitive Visual Guide” is an ultimate artistic journey across time. This book, written by Andrew Graham-Dixon, presents you with a trip through time by providing comprehensive information of art movements throughout history. It starts from Italian Renaissance and Greek classical art to masters of Impressionism and pre-raphaelites. The piece also serves as a valuable reference art book for any art lover!

From cave paintings to pop art, this mesmerizing and visually appealing book explores unparalleled insight into the world’s most iconic artworks. Through an in-depth analysis, it presents a unique opportunity to intricately understand the paintings by more than 7000 famous artists, like Leonardo da Vinci, Van Gogh, Picasso, and Monet. You will get to know about each artist’s origin, influences, and techniques through this reference book. 

The author has provided an introductory chapter named “Looking at art” for your convenience. This chapter will enhance your art knowledge through the art vocabulary and vision of an artist before you dig deep into art history. 

4. The Collins Big Book of Art: From Cave Art to Pop Art

“The Collins Big Book of Art” is a comprehensive yet beautiful and unusual book of art history for art enthusiasts. Irrespective of the knowledge or purpose of the reader, this book can be an accessible entree for anyone. 

It will provide you with a new and different reading experience altogether by engrossing you with its rich visuals of several art forms and analyzing the history behind each of them. In this manner, the reader has a clear understanding of the reason behind the art movement that took place over history and how the different art styles have evolved over the years. 

It has represented more than 1200 artworks, from cave paintings to modern art. Plus, it serves both as an educational and a gorgeous coffee table book that has been thoroughly cross-referenced and includes several sections that ensure you are learning about art in a step-by-step manner.  

A chronology spans the entire history stepwise, from 38000 BC to the present. The art book covers artworks from all around the world that have been compared in historical context, and each is labeled with country, date, size, materials, artists, and other such relevant factors. Additionally, each artwork is tied to key themes and movements, thoroughly explained later in the book. 

With an engaging presentation and easy navigation, this art book will inspire, inform and entertain art lovers at any level of appreciation and understanding. 

5. The Story Of Art

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The Story of Art
  • Used Book in Good Condition
  • Gombrich, E.H. (Author)

One of the most popular and famous art books ever written, “The story of art,” has been the world’s bestseller for the last few decades. Written by E.H. Gombrich, the clarity and simplicity of the contents are suitable for people of all ages and backgrounds. 

First published in 1950, this art history book is considered a work of art criticism and vivid introductory knowledge of visual arts. It is divided into a total of 27 chapters along with separate introductory and concluding chapters. Each chapter deals with a specific period in history with several movements and the concluding chapter summarizes the development in visual arts over time. 

The first chapter examines native cultures and prehistoric art, and the next four are dedicated to ancient Greece and Rome culture. In chapter 8, the focus has shifted towards medieval art, which progressed further to the late 18th and early 19th centuries of France, America, and England art.

One of the most striking features of this book is the number of illustrations presented. More than 50% of the pages are devoted to color photographs of artworks, sculptures, drawings, and architecture. In this manner, Gombrich is able to engross his readers in the subject through his unique gift of communicating. 

With repeated published editions, publishers have tried to improve and redesign the book. In the latest edition, complete illustrations have been colored and enhanced. Furthermore, its texts have been updated and revised, where appropriate.  

6. The Visual Arts: A History

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The Visual Arts: A History
  • Hardcover Book
  • Honour, Hugh (Author)

Written by Hugh Honour, “The visual arts: A history” has served as a classical introduction to the artistic heritage of humankind. From the Paleolithic age to the digitized present, every culture, and continent has its own art form, which Hugh has intricately presented through this book. It’s a relevant read if you are a budding visual artist and are willing to gain an in-depth insight into the history of visual art. 

In the current edition (i.e. 7th), Michael Archer, a contemporary historian, has considered the up-to-date contemporary art form. He has also reflected on the latest developments in art that will continue to shape our cultural history. 

7. Abstract Art: A Global History

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Abstract Art: A Global History
  • Hardcover Book
  • Karmel, Pepe (Author)

A leading authority on this subject, Pepe Karmel shares his fresh new perspective to understand abstract art and its persuasive and lavishly illustrated history. In his book “Abstract art: A global history,” Karmel moves beyond the canonical terrain of the form of art to demonstrate how artists have used abstract imagery to express cultural, social, and spiritual experiences. 

This book has expressed the abstract into five broader themes, including landscapes, body, cosmology, body, and artificial patterns. In this process, the history of the art form has been presented in a chronological manner apart from the movements and personalities associated with it.   

Artists from around the world and their art pieces are included in the book to make it much more appealing. Each narrative associates itself with abstract paintings and detailed analysis of the pieces with captions. It allows the reader to understand the influence of artists behind the art, their culture, and other aspects.  

8. The Lives Of The Artists

A part of Oxford World’s Classics and written by Giorgio Vasari, “The lives of the artists” is packed with attributions, facts, and the author’s entertaining anecdotes. It presents a detailed account of the subsequent development of Renaissance art over the years. 

The book begins with Giotto and Cimabue, who represent the early stages of art. Vasari considers the period of youthful vigor with artists like Masaccio, Ghiberti, Brunelleschi, and Donatello. While in the mature phase, artists like Michelangelo, Raphael, and Leonardo dominated the art world. 

It is basically a specially commissioned translation that is made of nearly 36 most important lives, including an introduction and detailed analysis. The artist’s life is presented in a manner to provide a deeper understanding to readers of their culture and influences behind their art styles and forms. 

9. Art History, Combined Volume

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Art History, Combined Volume (4th Edition)
  • Hardcover Book
  • Marilyn Stokstad (Author)

A finely written art history’s book by Marilyn Stoksad is for students of Global art history, arts management, and introductory art courses that are taught from a historical perspective. 

Students are provided with the most comprehensive, inclusive, and contextual reference book for history of art through this piece. The educators with this can engage their students in the study of art and that it remains ingrained in their memory for a long time. 

First published in 1995, “Art history, combined volume” is now in its 6th edition, a collaboration between Stoksad and Michael Cothren. Both writers share a similar vision of filling the history of art with enjoyment, that more public gets appealed towards knowing about its evolution, and the larger world. 

The book has established a balance of iconographic and formal analysis in all of its editions, tied up with art history for creating craft interpretations and engaging a large population. It has depicted the evolution from the ancient Paleolithic period art to middle art to post-modernism art, along with its interpretations. 

Visual art is treated as a part of a larger world throughout the text, in which politics, geography, economy, and other fine arts are components of the cultural and vibrant landscape. Through this book, students will have an in-depth knowledge of art history through clarified visual representations and analysis. 

10. 50 Artists You Should Know

50 Artists You Should Know (50 You Should Know)
  • Koester, Thomas (Author)
  • English (Publication Language)

50 artists you should know” is one of the most vibrant survey art history books that profile 50 well-known artists that existed over history and their representative works. Presented in a visually appealing format, the art book covers timelines, brief art history biographies, and critical analyses, it can engage anyone irrespective of their interests or needs. 

Written by Lars Roper and Thomas Koster, this comprehensive artistopedia (encyclopedia or art) helps readers track artists’ work in museums and online. It also includes a glossary of important art terms and sidebars that elaborate on relevant techniques and movements associated with an art piece. 

The artists are arranged chronologically, and the selection is based on their influences or roles in significant art movements since the Gothic period. Through these additional pieces of information, readers are provided with detailed insight into the evolution of visual arts. 

This book is perfect for easy reference or casual reading and can serve as a history lesson for everyone to enjoy.  

11. Styles, Schools, And Movements: The Essential Encyclopedic Guide To Modern Art

Styles, Schools & Movements
  • Dempsey, Amy (Author)
  • English (Publication Language)

Styles, schools and movements” by Amy Dempsy is a concise, clarified, and lively guide to contemporary art history and major movements that took place over time. To make it easier for readers, Dempsey has made out a unique visual map of the entire period in an eight-fold paper. It is followed by a detailed description and analysis of 100 significant movements and a brief description of 200 more. 

In order to map out the patterns of influence and interconnections, articles are arranged chronologically and divided into five significant periods. Each period represented a unique art style and form arising from a specific movement. A crispy narration of events during those periods, including rising and decline of a style, lives, and works of artists, influential exhibitions and manifestos, along with judgments of art critics. 

Influences behind styles are discussed and each article is supplemented by further reading suggestions and where one can find a complete collection of major artworks. The author has provided special focus illustrations made colorful for showing distinctive features of the art, which standard dictionary entries often fail to do. 

Along with that, supported by several references, the illustrations and texts allow a reader to trace fascinating patterns of reaction and influence. So overall, this book of art history allows a reader with an indispensable guide to modern art through more than 150 illustrations and detailed analysis.  

12. The Duchamp Dictionary

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The Duchamp Dictionary
  • Hardcover Book
  • Girst, Thomas (Author)

Michael Duchamp is amongst the most important artists of the last century and holds a significant fascination for many contemporary artists around the world. He can be regarded as one of the founding fathers of contemporary art. Despite the popularity, his books are often hyper-theoretical and might not be suitable for a major section of readers. 

The new book “The Duchamp Dictionary,” written by Thomas Girst, explores the life and work of the artists through means of alphabetical dictionary entries. It has been able to introduce his legacy in a clear and engaging way. From anatomy and alchemy to windows and Warhol, this piece offers a readable and succinct text that includes the latest and in-depth research. 

Girst, in his book, has included a list of 200 most important and interesting artworks, people, relationships, and ideas in Duchamp’s life. This list ranges from Fountain and The bicycle wheel to Louise Arensberg and Walter, Katherine Dreier, Peggy Guggenheim, and Arturo Schwarz. 

Added to it, newly commissioned illustrations by Luke Frost introduce each letter of the alphabet accompanied by specific entries, capturing the soul of the artist himself. 

Best art history books

Final Words

There you have a compilation of the 12 best art history textbooks you can find on the market. Whether you are just a casual reader, an art lover, student, or an art historian, you will find a book of choice in this curated list.

If you are an art historian or a student, books like art that changed the world, Gardner’s art through the ages, and others that are most suitable for you. The visual illustrations and a detailed timeline of art history through the period will provide you with a thorough understanding of changes and the reason behind the evolution. 

Also, these books cover art styles from the primitive and middle ages, along with their influence on the contemporary age. It includes western art, fine art, Greek art, Yoruba art, modern and contemporary art. 

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