• Home
  • A Beginner’s Guide to Art History

A Beginner's Guide to Art History

Image Share
  • Home
  • A Beginner’s Guide to Art History

A Beginner's Guide to Art History

Image Share

Whether it is standing in a museum in front of a particularly intriguing Mughal miniature or browsing through “surrealism” search results on the internet, at some point or the other, we’ve all lost ourselves in a work of art. Viewing art is never just that, especially when that piece has caught your eye. There is always a question lingering, a curiosity waiting to be satiated. Starting with ‘what makes it exceptional’ and ‘what does it mean’, to ‘what was the artist thinking’ and ‘why these specific mediums’, the questions are never ending.

Luckily, we aren’t the first ones to ask them. In a way, that is the best thing about art: when we are looking at it and asking ourselves such profound questions, we are also asking these to the many people who came before us and looked at the same piece, at a different time, maybe even in a different place using a different medium. Fortunately, some of these people have tried answering these questions, for themselves and for us.

These are our picks of some of the best books, podcasts and videos that helped us answer those burning questions we had after a particularly absorbing visit to a gallery.

For your Listening Pleasure:

MASH Podcast

MASH recently launched their new podcast series, “Indian Art History” hosted by Ayushi Chaurasia. Beginning from prehistory the series will, piece by piece, take us right up to the contemporary Indian art world, covering all its various aspects. Discussing both rare findings and popular favourites, each episode is a journey of understanding the diversity and collaborative spirit that is such a big part of the arts in the subcontinent. Listen to the introductory episode here.

Poster for Indian Art History series, MASH Podcasts, 2021 Image Credits/Courtesy: MASH India


Hosted by Jennifer Dasal, this podcast is the perfect fit for those looking to know more about the juicier details of art history. Each episode starts with a fascinating story and once we are engaged, the podcast introduces the subject by hooking us to the drama. Bringing art alive with each new topic, the podcast moves away from academic restraints and brings the unseen into the spotlight. Start listening to the first season here.

Cover for Indian Art Curious with Jennifer Dasal, Art Curious, 2020 Image Credits/Courtesy: Art Curious

For your Reading Pleasure:

Gardner’s Art Through the Ages : A Global History

There is a reason this has been one of the “bibles” of art history for so long! Written like a textbook, it gives a complete and chronologically sound view of art history. Starting from the art that existed before history to contemporary works, this book covers a little bit of everything.

Cover for Gardner’s Art Through the Ages : A Global History, Wadsworth Publishing, 2012 Image Credits/Courtesy: Amazon.in

Oxford History of Art – Indian Art

Written by the eminent art historian Partha Mitter, this text covers the parts of Indian art history that Gardner’s might have missed. Focusing on over 5000 years of the subcontinent’s art and architecture, the book is a comprehensive guide to the rich and diverse artistic tradition of the region. And, despite covering this much territory, the book is a lively and engaging read.

Cover for Oxford History of Art: Indian Art, Oxford Publishing, 2001 Image Credits/Courtesy: Amazon.in

101: A Guide to 101 Modern and Contemporary Indian Artists

If it’s Indian art history that you wish to explore then this book by Amrita Jhaveri would be perfect. Who better to explain the inner workings of the Indian modern and contemporary art scene than one of the country’s most well-known gallerists? Discussing 101 artists who changed the face of Indian art (from paintings to photographs and new media), this book is a great introduction to the later years of the nation’s art history.

Cover for 101: A Guide to 101 Modern and Contemporary Indian Artists, India Book House, 2005 Image Credits/Courtesy: Amazon.in

Ways of Seeing

Adapted from John Berger’s BBC series of the same name, this book is a great step into the slightly more theoretical part of art history. This influential collection of essays, seeks to highlight the importance of taking into account social, historical, and cultural contexts while looking at art. It is a lovely introduction to the concepts of viewing, absorbing and interpreting art.

Cover for Ways of Seeing, Penguin UK, 2008 Image Credits/Courtesy: Amazon.in

Key Moments in Art

For the more bizarre and dramatic stories behind the works of art, we recommend Lee Cheshire’s book. While chronologically covering fifty of the most iconic moments in Western art history, this book gives a glimpse into the juicy drama that formed these moments. It has a bit of everything: lawsuits, crime, exhibitions, fights, auctions and definitely a whole lot of art history.

Cover for Key Moments in Art, Thames and Hudson, 2018 Image Credits/Courtesy: Amazon.in

For your Viewing Pleasure:

SMART History

From palaeolithic to digital art, SMART History’s course on Khan Academy covers a wide range of topics and also a large geographical area. With their short and simple explanations, the videos are a fun starting point for learning more about art history. You can access the course here.

These tools are great for answering initial questions, but like we mentioned one of the wonderful things about art is, the more you know, the more curious you get. From our specially curated list of art history course recommendations on our Featured Courses page to our favourite podcasts, we have a wide selection of resources we want to recommend. After all, what is the point of having all this fervour, if we can’t share it?

Recommended articles