First things first

Art history might seem like a relatively straightforward concept: “art” and “history” are subjects most of us first studied in elementary school. In practice, however, the idea of “the history of art” raises complex questions. What exactly do we mean by art, and what kind of history (or histories) should we explore?

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Why you don’t like art history
Why you don’t like art history

Video courtesy of The Art Assignment

A brief history of Western culture
A brief history of Western culture

History has no natural divisions. A woman living in Florence in the 15th century did not think of herself as a woman of the Renaissance. Historians divide history into large and small units in order to make characteristics and changes clear to themselves and to students. It’s important to remember that any historical period is […]

What is Art History?
What is Art History?

Art history might seem like a relatively straightforward concept: “art” and “history” are subjects most of us first studied in elementary school. In practice, however, the idea of “the history of art” raises complex questions. What exactly do we mean by art, and what kind of history (or histories) should we explore? Let’s consider each […]

Unlock Art: Where are the Women?
Unlock Art: Where are the Women?

Video from Tate. Learn more about the changing role of female artists in a male dominated art world over the centuries. Join Jemima Kirke as she guides us through a history of women in art, exploring the ways in which they have been represented, underrepresented, and sometimes misrepresented.

How art can help you analyze
How art can help you analyze

Video from TED-Ed Can art save lives? Not exactly, but our most prized professionals (doctors, nurses, police officers) can learn real world skills through art analysis. Studying art like René Magritte’s Time Transfixed can enhance communication and analytical skills, with an emphasis on both the seen and unseen. Amy E. Herman explains why art historical […]

Is there a difference between art and craft?
Is there a difference between art and craft?

Video from TED-Ed Was da Vinci an artistic genius? Sure, but he was also born in the right place at the right time — pre-Renaissance, Western artists got little individual credit for their work. And in many non-Western cultures, traditional forms have always been prized over innovation. So, where do we get our notions of […]

First things first: why look at art?
First things first: why look at art?

Why look at art? This was the question we posed to several of our colleagues at a conference for museum professionals. Special thanks to Laura Mann, Anna Velez, an anonymous professional, and David Torgersen whose voices and insights are included here. Smarthistory images for teaching and learning: More Smarthistory images…

What is cultural heritage?
What is cultural heritage?

We often hear about the importance of cultural heritage. But what is cultural heritage? And whose heritage is it? Whose national heritage, for example, does the Mona Lisa by Leonardo da Vinci belong to? Is it French or Italian? First of all, let’s have a look at the meaning of the words. “Heritage” is a […]

What maps tell us
What maps tell us

When we think of maps we often assume they are scientifically objective tools that help us get from here to there, that they are telling us truths about the world in which we live. However, maps are subjective, and like any form of art and design they have stories to tell and reveal a lot […]

What made art valuable—then and now
What made art valuable—then and now

For artists in the period before the modern era (before about 1800 or so), the process of selling art was different than it is now. In the Middle Ages and in the Renaissance works of art were commissioned, that is, they were ordered by a patron (the person paying for the work of art), and then made […]

Common questions about dates
Common questions about dates

How long has our calendar been around? We are writing this on 12/26/12 or Wednesday, December 26, 2012. Traditionally understood as two-thousand and twelve years (give or take a few) after Jesus Christ is believed to have been born. But if Jesus used a calendar, it would not have been the one we use. Our […]

Selected Contributors | First things first