Essential Reading: Introduction to WHA

The course notes were quite confusing on whether you needed to write down extra notes about the introduction of the set text or not (since many notes were already written as an example of how to use the template). I’ve tried to pick out different examples to complete the exercise whilst reading the introduction:

Type of information  Notes or quotations 
1) Political, economic or social factors ‘Until the nineteenth century few, if any, great works of art were made to be seen in art galleries. Most were made in the service of religion or magic or of some secular ideal or, more rarely, to fulfil the private longings of the artist.’ (p.2)

‘In the twentieth century verisimilitude was completely disregarded by many Western artists who conceived sculpture as the art of creating three-dimensional forms often only barely, if at all, representational in intention.’ (p.5)

‘Despite the great achievements of so many photographers, it has only recently won widespread acceptance as a vehicle for artistic expression.. ‘ (p.9)

‘However accessible their formal qualities may be to us, however engaging their subject-matter, works of art cannot be properly or fully understood unless related to their original context – to the beliefs, hopes and fears of the people by whom and for whom they were made, which may differ widely from those prevalent nowadays in the West.’ (p.15)

  • Whole section on black people represented in Western art – ‘The Power of Images’ p.16-18.

‘This image of docile subservience was to be repeated time and again in large as well as small works of painting and sculpture. But in fact it betrayed rather than advanced the cause of racial justice and equality: it perpetrated the notion of the inferiority of blacks, enslaved by whites on whom they were dependant even for their liberation.’ (p.17) [see fig 0.13, p17, Wedgwood medallion]

  • Whole section on women artists p 18-20

‘Women remained, nevertheless, a tiny minority among professional artists and those who attained distinction tended to be regarded as prodigies – hence, perhaps, the demand for self-portraits by Sofonisba Anguissola..’ (p.19)


2) Changes to status or training of artists ‘In nineteenth-century Europe this technique of working fro points enabled many sculptors to confine themselves to modelling in clay and leave the arduous task of carving to assistants – in France called practiciens, practitioners of their craft, as distinct from creative artists.’ (p.4)

‘The framed picture on canvas is a Western phenomenon (not imitated elsewhere before the nineteenth century) and its popularity in the West accounts for the prestige acquired by the art of painting from the sixteenth century onwards.’ (p.7)

3) Development of materials and processes [Sculpture] ‘Iron chisels and drills, which came into use in the West in the first millennium BC, greatly lightened the carvers task and opened up new possibilities, especially in undercutting, though they resulted mainly in increased production.’ (p.3)

‘Later, new synthetic materials were taken up and three-dimensional works were made by ‘assembling’ pieces of the most miscellaneous materials.’ (p.5)

[Fresco] ‘As plaster dries quickly, no more than a section of the composition could be painted at a time, such a section being called in Italy a giornata or ‘a day’s work’.’ (p.6)

  • pros & cons of Fresco outlined on p6.

‘For painting on panels of wood, the technique generally adopted in Europe from about the twelfth century onwards was tempera: powdered pigments made workable (tempered) by egg-yolk and mixed with some form of gum.’ (p.6)

‘Not until the early fifteenth century was it noticed that all receding parallel lines at right angles to the field of vision – called orthogonals – appear to converge on a single distant vanishing-point.’ (p.9)

  • Used by Filippo Brunelleschi (florentine architect) in 1415 (p.9)


4) Styles and movements ‘Determined to depict only what they saw at a particular moment, the French Impressionists did their best to forget what they knew of the local color of objects and record only their optical perceptions.’ (p.12)

‘And One artists lonely quest for a new and more effective means of expression might inspire others and lead to a modification in the style of a whole group of artists.’ (p.13)

‘Several [styles], including Gothic, Baroque, Rococo and Neoclassical, originated as terms of abuse or disdain for the outmoded.’ (p.14)

  • Early nineteenth century – Romantics believed ‘that the aim of art was to express the artist’s individual feelings and perceptions’. (p.21)


5) Inside and outside influences ‘The adoption of wedge-shaped stones to construct round arches and vaults, already known in ancient Egypt, was exploited by the Romans and later carried a stage further by their invention of concrete.’ (p.3)

  • Woodcut Relief Print was first used in seventh century China (for printed images of the Buddha), then in Europe in the fourteenth century for Christain images. (p.8)
6) Critics, thinkers and historians ‘The categorisation of styles has, however, been the work not of artists but of writers who have tried to impose a semblance of order on the manifold and infinitely diverse expressions of creative activity – a system akin to but without the precision of botanical classification of plants, in genera, species and so on.’ (p.13)

‘The earliest extant  history of art, devoted to that of Greece and Rome, was written by Pliny the Elder, a Roman polymath, as part of a vast treaties on natural history completed before he died in the eruption of Vesuvius in AD 79.’ (p.20)

‘In Europe, after the Middle Ages when writings on art were limited mainly to technical manuals, Pliny’s notion of progress was revived by the Florentine painter and architect Giorgio Vasari’s Lives of the Most Excellent Italian Architects, Painters and Sculptors, first published in Florence in 1550. ‘ (p.21)


Interesting Concluding Quote:

‘Works of art are more than aesthetically pleasing objects, more than feats of manual skill and ingenuity: they deepen our insight into ourselves and others, they sharpen our awareness of our own and other modes of thought and religious creeds, they enlarge our comprehension of alternative and often alien ways of life – in short they help us explore and understand our own human nature.’ (p.21)


Honour, H & Fleming, J. (2009) A World History of Art. (7th Ed), London, Laurence King Publishing.


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