Art History: The Basics  book cover
2nd Edition

Art History: The Basics

ISBN 9780415856614
Published March 29, 2021 by Routledge
322 Pages 12 Color & 25 B/W Illustrations

FREE Standard Shipping
USD $22.95

Prices & shipping based on shipping country


Book Description

Now in its second edition, this volume is an accessible introduction to the history of art. Using an international range of examples, it provides the reader with a toolkit of concepts, ideas and methods relevant to understanding art history.

This new edition is fully updated with colour illustrations, increased coverage of non-western art and extended discussions of contemporary art theory. It introduces key ideas, issues and debates, exploring questions such as:

  • What is art and what is meant by art history?
  • What approaches and methodologies are used to interpret and evaluate art?
  • How have ideas regarding medium, gender, identity and difference informed representation?
  • What perspectives can psychoanalysis, semiotics and social art histories bring to the study of the discipline?
  • How are the processes of postcolonialism, decolonisation and globalisation changing approaches to art history?

Complete with helpful subject summaries, a glossary, suggestions for future reading and guidance on relevant image archives, this book is an ideal starting point for anyone studying art history as well as general readers with an interest in the subject.

Table of Contents

Introduction to the second edition

1 Art histories and art theories


What is art?

What is art history?

The classical concept of ‘art’

Plato’s idea of mimesis

Issues arising from art as imitation

Medieval art and its interpretation

Art as imitation in the Renaissance

Giorgio Vasari and the origins of western art history

Early writing on art

Academies and the ‘Hierarchy of Genres’

Winckelmann, art history and the western Enlightenment

Art as an expression of the ‘will to create’

Aesthetic comparison and contrast

Connoisseurship and art history

The limits of connoisseurship

Bell’s theory of ‘significant form’

The theory of art as expression

Objections to Collingwood’s theory

Art as abstraction or idea

Art understood as ‘family resemblance’

The Institutional Theory of Art

Art history in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries

Art history and the 1930s diaspora

British Art History, the Courtauld and Warburg Institutes

The ‘New Art History’

Beyond the ‘New Art History’


Further reading

2 Formalism, modernism and modernity


Formalist art theories and the avant-garde

The formal components of painting and design

Abstraction as process

Formal language, abstraction and sculpture

Observations on formal analysis

Formalism as art practice and art theory

Roger Fry and a British formalist tradition

Avant-garde art and ‘the crisis of taste’

Greenberg and the dominance of modernist theory

Modernism and the White Cube hang

Objections to Greenberg’s modernism

Art after Greenberg


Further reading

3 Marxist and social art histories


Who was Karl Marx?

Art as ideology

Contextual analyses

David and the Paris Salon

Reactions and responses to the Horatii

The Horatii as political metaphor

Iconography and iconology

Iconology and ‘intrinsic meaning’

Art, alienation and ‘species being’

Art as commodity and a ‘deposit of a social relationship’

Superstructure and infrastructure

Art and agency – ‘life creates consciousness, not consciousness life’

David’s Horatii as a revolutionary manifesto

The Horatii as a canonical painting of the French Revolution

Tendency and social commitment – what should art and artists do?

Malevich’s Black Square and the ‘zero of forms’

Social interpretation and meaning

Art and the ‘social command’: Soviet Socialist Realism and its legacies

Social realism in Europe

Critical theory, the ‘Frankfurt School’ and Gerhard Richter

T. J. Clark and a British Marxist tradition

New social and political constellations


Further reading

4 Semiotics and poststructuralism


Introducing language and linguistics

Ferdinand de Saussure

Charles Sanders Peirce

Developments of semiosis

Art and semiotics

Signs and representations of reality

Modalities of the sign

Challenging ‘reality’

Whose ‘reality’?

Structural analysis

Syntagmatic analysis of images

Discourse and power

Discourse and ‘metanarratives’

Paradigmatic oppositions

Binary oppositions and art


Figurative language

Social semiotics

Poststructuralism and its critics


Further reading

5 Psychoanalysis, art and the fractured self


Freud, psychoanalysis and psycho-sexual development

The Oedipus complex

The psyche’s tripartite structure

Instinctual energies, creativity and sublimation

Surrealism and psychoanalysis

Gombrich and psychoanalysis

Klein, Stokes, Fuller and the ‘Infant–Mother’ paradigm

Lacan: the mirror stage; the symbolic, the imaginary and the real

Feminist challenges to the Freudian and Lacanian psyche

Creativity, sadism and perversion

A Freudian postscript: from symptoms to symbols

Art and abjection

Abjection, ambivalence and contemporary art


Further reading

6 Representations of gender, sex and sexualities


Defining sex, gender and sexuality

Classical representation of the human form

Visualising gender difference

Gender, status and power

Challenges to gender boundaries

Viewing the nude

The gaze: the pleasure of looking

Mary Cassatt’s challenge to the male gaze

Caught in the act: subverting the pleasure of the gaze

Feminism and art history

Feminist interventions in art

Expanding feminism

Contemporary art history and feminism

Gender perspectives on contemporary art

Developments in gender studies

New paradigms of gender, sex and sexuality

Queer theory and LGBTQIA+

Beyond gender: the body as sensorium and spectacle


Further reading

7 Art and art histories since the 1960s


Art and ‘paradigm shifts’

Duchamp’s readymades

American hegemony and a new order

Death of the author

Art, objecthood and theatricality

Art as commodity and concept

The Institutional Theory of Art

Limitations of the Institutional Theory

Lyotard and the death of the ‘metanarratives’

New countercultures for the 1960s and 1970s

Photography, cultural reproduction and oppositional postmodern cultures

Approaching the postmodern and late modern: how soon is now?

The contemporary as ‘critical pluralism’

Visual cultures and ‘double-coding’

Baudrillard and the four orders of the simulacra

‘The End of History’?

Relational Aesthetics


Further Reading

8 Postcolonialism, globalisation and art histories


Western-centrism within art history

Global cultural and artistic interactions

Western artistic appropriations and ‘Primitivism’

The struggle for independence and decolonisation

Edward Said and Orientalism

Postcolonialism and postcolonial studies


Legacies and continuities: empire, coloniality and the subaltern

Interpreting cultural interaction and exchange

Identity, agency and place

Globalising art history and global contemporary art

Afterword from Oceania


Further reading



Glossary of Terms

View More



Diana Newall is a Staff Tutor and an Associate Lecturer in Art History at The Open University and a Consultant Lecturer for Sotheby’s Institute of Art. She is co-author of The Chronology of Pattern (2011), has published on Cretan art and is editor of Art and Its Global Histories, A Reader (2017).

Grant Pooke is an Honorary Senior Fellow in Art History of the University of Kent and teaches for The Open University. He is the author of Francis Klingender: A Marxist Art Historian Out of Time (2008), co-author of Fifty Key Texts in Art History (2012) and Narratives for Indian Modernity: The Aesthetic of Brij Mohan Anand (2016).


The second edition of Art History: The Basics continues the authors’ investments in making art history accessible to a variety of 21st-century readers. Clear and cogent, it reconsiders who and what "the basics" of art history are by freshening up the canon of intellectual debates, methodologies, and interpretations that form art history’s discourse in the west and incorporating more recent and urgent conversations about gender, sexual orientation, de-colonialization, and "otherness" that continue to impact the discipline in radical and transformative ways. Predicating a text on a transformative model, as Newall and Pooke have done, reminds readers that art history is an inherently living discourse demanding new revisions as it adheres to new and changing contexts now and into the future.

Jordan Amirkhani, Professorial Lecturer in Modern and Contemporary Art History, American University, Washington, DC

Few art history textbooks today address so comprehensively the underlying issues and histories of art history the way this book does. Without a doubt, this book is the new companion of every serious art history professor and instructor.

May F. El-Hage, art historian and curator, Beirut, Lebanon

Art History: The Basics is a highly practical source book for students and scholars, which ambitiously attempts to answer the question: 'What is art history?'. Covering a broad spectrum of key philosophical debates, it is nevertheless written in clear, accessible language. The subject is refreshingly presented as evolving and dynamic and the new edition includes sections on urgent contemporary issues such as the Black Lives Matter movement and recent global perspectives. This is a welcome addition to the bookshelf for students, art historians and general readers.  

Katie Hill, Programme Director, MA Modern and Contemporary Asian Art, Sotheby's Institute of Art

Newall and Pooke completed the second edition of Art History: The Basics in the middle of the global outbreak of the pandemic. In such a daunting and critical moment, this book first and foremost addresses two urgent questions: What is the relevance of art to the evolution of our civilization? How has art history been shaped by the turbulent events in human society? At a time when the history is being rewritten, Newall and Pooke’s book reinforces the necessity, more than ever, of understanding that art, as a form of expression, enables us to explore new ways of perceiving the world, and that artists, as creators, shaped and advanced art history: so it expands and continues.

Kejia Wu, Faculty Member, Claremont Graduate University; Columnist, the Chinese Edition of the Financial Times.

The new and revised edition of Newall and Pooke’s textbook not only introduces the reader to what actually constitutes the history of art, but also shows how the discipline has developed and changed through critical interventions into the subject from the social history of art through to postcolonialism. As such, it is essential reading for students studying the history of art or anyone else with an interest in the subject.

Warren Carter, Lecturer in Art History, The Open University, UK