Saturday, 5 March 2011

Methods and Theories of Art History by Anne D'Alleva

My well thumbed copy!
Book Review

How many times have I started reading an article or book on art, only to be blocked, sometimes at the first sentence, because I don't understand a term on which the whole meaning hinges?  I've never had any education in this field, and though I have tried to learn on my own, it has been hard to get started.  It all seemed a bit unfathomable. While writing my MA application, I looked in vain for an art theory dictionary or glossary to help me.  New Keywords: a revised vocabulary of culture and society; eds Morris, Grossberg, Williams and Bennett, was a help but there were still lots of basic elements I didn't understand.  Then I found this wonderful book by Anne D'Alleva.

D'Alleva writes for students and as she says in the introduction, she offers a starting point for approaching theories of art history.  She writes enough to give an overview of each development of thinking about art, but not so much as to overwhelm the first time reader.   The book covers formalism, semiotics, Marxism, feminism, psychoanalysis, reception theory, hermeneutics, structuralism, postmodernism and much more besides.  I particularly loved it that almost every time I read a word or phrase I didn't understand, it was followed by an short explanation. For example, 'Gramski developed a theory of cultural hegemony - that is, influence or authority gained via cultural practices rather than by law or force - to explain how the bourgeoisie continued to dominate society.' How can you fail to love a woman who makes it so clear! In the final chapter she gives very practical suggestions on how to integrate art theory into essay-writing, and even analyses real student essays to explain how to produce good work.

The book is written in a warm facilitative style with an emphasis on clarity.  If you want to get the tools to enable you to learn more about art history, art theory and art movements, then this is the book for you.

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