Intro to Art History

Dear Reader,

I have one child who has always had a passion for art. Though we have covered art history in various ways in the past, mostly through picture study, I wanted to give her something more organized this year that could count as a high school fine arts credit. Next year we are going to try AP Art History so I am calling this year’s work “Intro to Art History.” Keep reading to find out what we used and how we went about it.


Intro to Art History


Look! by Anne D’Avella – Someone had given me this thin book about looking at art. It is a nice introduction to how we analyze a work of art. I had my daughter read it first. We spent 2 weeks, or about 8 sittings, on it, which given the length of the book is not at all burdensome.

The Story of Painting from Cave Painting to Modern Times by Horst W. and Dora Jane Janson – There are a lot of “story of art” books out there. Of the ones I had easy access to, this seemed the most readable while still being fairly thorough. It is a fairly dense book so the readings I assigned were short. As is our custom, the assignment was “read and narrate, read and narrate.”

How to Read a Painting: Lessons from the Old Masters by Patrick De Rynck – This book analyzes various works of art. I divided up the readings and interspersed them with those from The Story . . . so that she was looking at the works of art from the time she was reading about.


Sister Wendy: The Complete Collection Sister Wendy is a nun who did a series of videos on art history. I had my daughter watch a segment about every other week to get through them all in a school year. One warning though: Sister Wendy is not afraid of the raunchy. She doesn’t shy away from nudes and the like.

How we went about it:

For most of the school year, my daughter was doing readings 4 days a week. The first two weeks, as I said, she did Look! The next 18 or so weeks she did readings from the other two books. If you want to see how I divided up the readings, you can find them here (opens a Google doc). She also watched the video every other week.

After the reading portion was done, I had her do two kinds of assignments. First she analyzed a few paintings. I made up my own sheets for her to use for this to guide in her considering form, composition, etc. You can find that sheet here. It’s wonderful to be able to go to a museum to do this, but if you can’t do that, you can always look at paintings online.

The second assignment was a term paper on some topic in art history. While the topic was up to her, I provided some help by providing a list of sample topics that I thought would work well. Once she had a topic — she initially picked mythology in art and then we narrowed it down to paintings depicting Bacchus and Ariadne — I helped her find works that fit her topic. I gave a longer list and she narrowed it down to three. Then I had her analyze each of the three. The next step was to find something to say about the three and to write it up. She is still working on this so I will report back on how it all turns out.

Additional Resources:

These are resources we have used in the past or will in the future.

A Child’s History of Art by V.M. Hillyer — Hillyer’s works are aimed at a younger age but he has enough to say to make them useful to the older student as well, especially on with not much of a background in art. Sometimes his books are found as thinner volumes such as A History of Sculpture, A History of Architecture, etc. or you may find them combined in a one volume set.

Adventures in Art from Cornerstone Curriculum is a wonderful curriculum that we have used in the past. It comes with instructions that make it easy to adapt to a Charlotte Mason curriculum. I felt that it really helped us learn how to look at art.

How Should We Then Live by Francis Schaeffer – Schaeffer looks at western civilization through Christian eyes and in the process discusses movements in art. I think it is a higher level book and we plan to read it next year. Schaeffer is quoted heavily by Adventures in Art. There is also a video series.

The Liberated Imagination: Thinking Christianly about the Arts by Leland Ryken – I am reading this book now (review to come soon, I am sure) and plan to have my daughter read it next. It is easier to digest than Schaeffer. It is not about the movements in art, however, but about how Christians should do and understand art.


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