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Before Chapter One
  • Calendar Aug 23, 2019
  • User Jared Wells
  • Category In Uncategorized
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In a previous article, I discussed how much you can learn from even just the name of a textbook. The point is not that you can read the title of the book and be done with it, but simply that there is information of value to you everywhere in a book, if you are hunting it down. This is why starting your pre-reading by looking at the titles of the chapter and subsections can help prime your mind for what is to come

But there is so much more information in your book that you can find if you look for it! Information that most students take for granted, but that can be invaluable. Let’s take a look at the Art History textbook and see what we can find before first chapter.

About the Cover Art

You are going to be looking at the cover art many times over the course of the school year. Why not know something about it? Reading through this, we get a sense of the kind of things we are going to learn about a piece of art: -the type of art (movement) and how the piece exemplifies it. -the time period and location, and how the they influences the piece -the medium and technique -history of the artist Maybe this will be a pattern throughout the book. Perhaps it will be an expectation that we understand these things about each piece of art.

Brief Contents

This is “just” a list of chapter titles. What can we learn from this? Skimming over the titles, we can make a few observations: -”Introduction: What Is Art History” seems like it might be a pretty darn important chapter to read! -The book seems to be largely in chronological order, with chapter devoted to particular regions at a given period of time. -It is largely focussed on Europe and the near East (and later North America, with only 10 of 37 chapters devoted to Asia/Africa/Americas. -Chapters 1-19 seem to be about “early periods” and chapters 20-37 about “late periods” (Chapters 15-19 are about “other” areas in earlier periods, chapter 20 gets back to Europe, and chapters 32-37 are about “other” areas in later periods) -It looks like Europe and the Near East are going to be vastly more important for this class than other areas of the world (Africa, Americas, and Asia). In each half of the book, only about 25% of the chapters are about areas outside Europe/Near East. Why that is might be a good question for us to think about as we go through the school year.


The table of contents can do a couple of things for us. First, it can give us a sense of the patterns that we’ll come across in the chapters. Secondly, it can give us more ideas about what the important ideas are that we’ll come across again and again. So first off, what patterns do we see in each chapter? -Each chapter starts with a “Framing the Era” section. I went ahead to chapter 1 and 2 to see what these sections were about. It looks like these sections give some background about the period of time and a piece or pieces of art that exemplify that period of time. They have some vocabulary that will be important for that chapter as well. -The chapter is divided up into 2-6 sections that deal with different locations, time periods, or style of art. -Each chapter has several boxed essays that highlight different aspects of history, culture, techniques that give insight into the broader ideas within a chapter by looking at specific examples and case-studies. Understanding how these connect to the chapter as a whole could be a useful way to test ourselves, and seeing case studies could be a good way for us to see examples of concepts we might not fully understand. -Each chapter has a timeline (showing important dates) and a map (showing important places). These could be a very useful way for use to test ourselves, or for us to having important dates and places highlighted (probably we’ll want to study and understand these maps and timelines well). -Each chapter ends with THE BIG PICTURE (all in caps!). These are bullet point lists of the most important people, events, and concepts of the time period. These often include non-art items. These ideas should probably be mastered!


In general, a preface is a section about the book, What better person to tell us about the book than the author! There is lots of great information in the preface to Gardner’s “Art through the Ages”. -There is an online component of the textbook that has more images, and videos, giving more examples of the art from each time period. It seems that a lot of time and effort went into these online resources! -There is a “backpack” edition of this textbook that divides the book up into six smaller paperback books. Might be worth it so you don’t have to lug this huge book around all year! -The author mentions “Framing the Era”, “THE BIG PICTURE”, timelines, and maps specifically, saying that students find these useful when preparing for examinations. I wonder if these could be valuable or important to pay attention to? -The author discusses the purpose of each of the types of boxed essays found throughout the chapters, noting that the material covered in these boxed essays is more closely related to the main text than it was in previous editions. This likely means that these boxed essays will be important examples of the things we are trying to learn in the text. -The author explains why art from outside of Western Civilization seems to have been separated into its own group of chapters. It’s because it “interrupted” the continuous narrative of the western tradition. This suggests that understanding the connections between chapters is also going to be important (ex. How does what happened in the previous chapter affect what I’m seeing in this chapter?) -The author discusses the purpose of an introductory art course: “to foster an appreciation and understanding of historically significant works of art of all kinds from all periods and from all parts of the globe.” He then discusses how the book is organized: according to civilizations and in chronological order so that the story of art history can best be told. He wants to make sure that we are not discussing “just” art, but are considering the art in the context of patronage, function, and history. So we also need to pay attention to relationship between art and history in a wider context (not just “art history”). -The author mentions an “art canon” which suggest that there is number of pieces of art that are standard, must-know pieces for an art history class. A quick google search led me to: Wow! What a fantastic resource that we should probably bookmark and refer to as we go through this course!

About the Author

Learn something about the person whose book you are going to be spending a year reading. It will just take a minute...if you wrote a book wouldn’t you want people to know who YOU are?


More information about the online resources referred to in the preface (and where to find those resources.)


If the preface is about the book, an introduction is about the course. Not every textbook has an introduction chapter: in many textbooks the introduction chapter is just called “Chapter 1”. But it often serves the same role. It’s really a tragedy that many teachers skip the introduction. The introduction is going to introduce you to key ideas, learning objectives, definitions and terms, all of which are going to serve you throughout the course. The introduction for Gardner’s Art through the Ages is entitled, “What Is Art History?” Do you think that might be an important question to be able to answer if you want to succeed in the course? The first section in the chapter is called “The Questions Art Historians Ask” and it may as well be titled “The Questions Art History Exams Ask” as it goes through what it purports to be the important things you need to know about a piece of art. Similarly, the next section, entitled, “Words Art Historians Use”, goes through art concepts that will surely be referenced again and again throughout the year. Understanding your introduction well means that you have the perspective and mindset that the author intends for you to have. It means you’ll be thinking about the things the author intends and asking the questions the author intends.

In Summary

When you begin diving into the details of a course or chapter, having some ideas about the context of what you are reading can help you make sense of the details. Pre-reading a chapter can help you make sense of the big picture of a chapter, and taking advantage of what comes before chapter one in your textbook can help you make sense of the big picture of the course.

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