Tools for understanding art

Why does a work of art look the way it does? Who made it and why? What does it mean? These questions and others like them lie at the heart of art historical inquiry.

videos + essays

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Light and shadow
Light and shadow

This video is part of the Art Institute of Chicago’s Art Explainer series. How does an artist use light to help keep us out of the dark?  Using three artworks from the Art Institute’s collection, this video unpacks a central theme and uses innovative visual storytelling to highlight the choices artists made to create light and shadow in […]

Surface and Depth
Surface and Depth

What makes paintings feel as deep as the view from a window or as flat as a wall?   This video is part of the Art Institute of Chicago’s Art Explainer series. Using three artworks from the Art Institute’s collection, this video unpacks a central theme and uses innovative visual storytelling to highlight the choices artists made […]

The Power to Look
The Power to Look

This video is part of the Art Institute of Chicago’s Art Explainer series. How does what you see in an artwork tell you how to look? Using three artworks from the Art Institute’s collection, this video unpacks a central theme and uses innovative visual storytelling to highlight the choices artists made to shape form and […]

Introduction to art historical analysis
Introduction to art historical analysis

Why does a work of art look the way it does? Who made it and why? What does it mean? These questions and others like them lie at the heart of art historical inquiry. Art historians use various types of analysis to provide answers. These have varied over time and continue to evolve, but in […]

How to do visual (formal) analysis
How to do visual (formal) analysis

With Giovanni Bellini, Madonna of the Meadow, c. 1500, oil and egg on synthetic panel, transferred from wood, 67.3 x 86.4 cm (The National Gallery). Speakers: Dr. Steven Zucker and Dr. Beth Harris.

The Case for Copying
The Case for Copying

Speaker: Sarah Urist Green

Foreshortening explained
Foreshortening explained

Speakers: Dr. Beth Harris and Dr. Steven Zucker

Contrapposto explained
Contrapposto explained

Marble Statue of a Kouros (New York Kouros), c. 590–580 B.C.E. (Attic, archaic), Naxian marble, 194.6 x 51.6 cm (The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York City) and Polykleitos, Doryphoros (Spear-Bearer), Early Classical Period, Roman marble copy after a Greek bronze original from c. 450-440 B.C.E. (Museo Archaeologico Nazionale, Naples) Although these particular objects may […]

Classical orders of architecture explained
Classical orders of architecture explained

Smarthistory images for teaching and learning: More Smarthistory images…

A brief history of the representation of the body in Western sculpture
A brief history of the representation of the body in Western sculpture

Smarthistory images for teaching and learning: More Smarthistory images…

Selected Contributors | Tools for understanding art