Resource Guide to Art History

Art history may be defined as the educational or academic study of artistic creations and works of arts as well as their development. The earliest forms of art date back to the Paleolithic, Neolithic, and Metal age and continued to develop throughout ancient cultures. Ancient Mesopotamia, Egypt, Greece, and China were rich with cultural works of art, all which contribute a comprehensive review of art history. Art history is classified by time periods and region. Many cultures created art for religious or spiritual purposes. Other works of art were created as declaratory pieces that would make a statement. Art may be connected to social and political change, and is nearly always an aspect or reflection of the cultural climate of a region.

History of Art

Some of the oldest archaeological objects known to man are connected to art. Art is entwined in humanity and the course of history has shown that art is here to stay. Man has a need to create, to leave a record, and to express his or her ideas through new mediums. Art may be one of the best cultural records an individual may leave behind. From the dawn of time until modern days, humans on a global scale have and continue to create works of art. Primitive art reveals more about a culture than could be obtained or understood through other means. Where language may fail and prove troublesome to interpret, art speaks to future generations in ways that language never could. Future generations can always learn from the history of art, and the subject is one that is multi-disciplinarian. Art rarely stands alone, but also incorporates literature, social and political connotations, spiritualism, or religious ideas, as well as individual expression. Art can be therapeutic, healing, reserved, the source for critique, and the subject of strong debate. Art is educational and teaches in a visual form that words alone may not convey. The study of art history is a vast subject that opens the learner to new worlds, cultures, and experiences. By studying art history, you will expand your cultural horizons and enrich your life in ways unimaginable.

  • Art History:  Voice of the Shuttle provides this database that links to numerous art history resources.
  • Art Cyclopedia: The Art Cyclopedia is an extensive resource that focuses on artists and art movements throughout history. 
  • Art on the Web: Boston College provides these resources for those studying art history. 

Art time Periods and Art Styles

Art is categorized by style, time period, or phase. Some artists work in a similar manner that developed into a named classification or style. Other artists may be grouped due to the period in which their works were created. This is true of ancient and prehistory works of art. Other works of art are simply grouped by era. Understanding various art periods and styles is crucial for those studying the history of art.


Prehistoric works of art date back to the early stages of human development. These periods include Paleolithic, Neolithic, and Metal Ages (Copper, Bronze, and Iron). Archaeologists have discovered numerous works of art from these prehistory eras. Prehistoric art, dating back to 25,000 B.C. include works from Africa, Australia, Mediterranean regions, India, and European regions. Art from this time often includes work in stone as well as paintings.

  • Lascaux Cave: The official French site for the Paleolithic caves and prehistoric art work.   

Ancient Art (Mesopotamia, Egypt)

The ancient art of Mesopotamia and Egypt coincide with the development of writing. Art works from Mesopotamia date back to 3500 B.C. while those from Ancient Egypt date back to 3000 B.C. Egypt also developed impressive architectural works of art. These include the Pyramids of Gaza, the underground tomb known as the Valley of the Kings, and monuments such as sphinxes, temples, and shrines.

  • Ancient Egypt: People and art: Penn State explores the art of Ancient Egypt. 

Classical Antiquity

The time period referred to as Classical Antiquity includes works from Greece and Rome. This period spans between the 8th and 6th centuries B.C. and ends with Medieval times and the Renaissance Period. Classical Greece spanned the 5th and 4th centuries with the Roman Republic occurring from the 5th to 1st centuries B.C. The Roman Empire lasted from 1st century B.C. and extended throughout the 5th century A.D. The 4th to 6th centuries A.D. are referred to as Late Antiquity.


The Renaissance period beings at 1300 A.D. and extends until the 1600s, when it became known as Neoclassicism. During the late 13th to 17th century, many works of art were created during the Italian Renaissance. Other works during this time include art from the Early Netherlandish Period and Mannerism. The Baroque Period occurred between Renaissance and Neoclassicism.

  • Renaissance Art: The University of Evansville examines the history of art. 


The Baroque Art period was birthed in the Italian Renaissance at approximately 1600 A.D. Receiving the approval of the Roman Catholic Church, Baroque went on to enjoy great success. The style is rife with religious themes and many architectural structures were created during this period for the Catholic Church. One notable artist is Bernini who created St. Theresa in Ecstasy and designed the Cornaro Chapel for the Saint Maria della Vittoria Roman church.


Neoclassicism was in contrast to the Baroque style. 

  • Neoclassicism Art:  The City University of New York profiles Neoclassicism art. The time period ran from the mid-1700s throughout the mid-1800s. Where Baroque style was known for its superfluous styles, Neoclassicism drew on the ancient principles and focused on symmetry and simplicity. Neoclassicism


Romanticism spanned from approximately 1790 until 1880. The movement consisted of other eras including the Nazarene, Ancients, Purismo, and the American style Luminism. Sometimes referred to as “Romantic Era,” this time period expressed itself through inspiration. The period is often difficult to sum up in simple terms; however, it has endured longer than many other artistic eras.


Realism spanned from 1830 until 1870. A French movement, Realism bridged the gap between Romanticism and Modern Art. Realism created works of art and literature that expressed objective reality from a third person’s point of view. Realism was contrary to Romanticism.


Like Realism, Impressionism started in France. Beginning in 1863, Impressionism lasted until 1890. It spread to the United States in 1880. Impressionism was followed by the Post-Impression era and Art Nouveau.

  • Art in Color: Fairleigh Dickinson University highlights Impressionism. 

Art Nouveau

Art Nouveau began in France in 1890 and lasted until 1914. Also referred to as “Jugendstil” Art Nouveau was the “New Art.” Art Nouveau was the bridge between Neoclassicism and Modernism. Art Nouveau spread throughout Europe and reached Italy, Germany, Austria, Britain, and more.


Expressionism began in Germany from 1905 until 1930. Many expressionists were inspired by the work of Norwegian artist Edvard Munch “The Scream.” The scream expressed emotional meaning that was not hard for viewers to feel. Expressionism attempts to convey an emotional meaning or experience in art form.

  • Expressionism:  The Catholic University of America examines Expressionism. 


Cubism began in France and lasted from 1907 until 1914. Another art period, Cubo Expressionism, lasted from 1909 until 1921. Pablo Picasso is credited with bringing cubism to the forefront, along with Georges Braque. Cubism involves the creation of art work from several viewpoints or perspectives combined in one form.


Surrealism began in France during the 1920s, and is an art form that continues to run strong. Surrealism evolved from Dadaism, a cultural Swiss movement that ran during World War I. It was anti-war and embraced elements of anarchy. Surrealism is viewed as much as a political movement as an artistic one.

Pop Art

Pop Art began during the mid-1950s in Britain and America. Unlike the fine arts, pop art used various mediums found in modern culture, such as commercial or marketing advertisements, movie posters, or Hollywood icons, etc., in order to create new forms of art. Andy Warhol is known for creating new works of art based upon Campbell’s Soup. Pop Art continues as a major art style in modern times.

  • Pop Art:  Saint Michaels College Vermont examines Pop Art.

Studying Art History

There are many benefits to studying art history. Art history majors may find a variety of jobs wait for them after earning a degree. There are teaching positions, work in museums, become an art critic, or use their degree in any art related field. As art is a multi-disciplinarian subject, those who study art learn much more than studying individual artists or their works. Art history encompasses politics, cultural divides, global customs, and sociological behaviors.