We spent 26 hours on research, videography, and editing, to review the top choices for this wiki. As an academic field, Art History has developed to include theoretical discussions not only about aesthetics, but also the social and political contexts surrounding the work. Whether you’re looking for a comprehensive survey of creativity throughout human history, or a more in-depth look at one particular area, this list includes volumes of various scopes, global regions, and levels of difficulty. When users buy our independently chosen editorial picks, we may earn commissions to support our work.

10. A World History

For those who want to supplement their course readings or simply learn more for fun, A World History is a concise overview intended for a popular audience. The 900 illustrations packed into this pocket-sized volume are nice, but hard to appreciate due to their small size.

  • Great as a brief guide or refresher
  • Presented in chronological order
  • Heavy focus on european works

Brand Abrams
Model pending
Weight 1.6 pounds
Rating 3.9 / 5.0

9. The Annotated Mona Lisa

For both students and hobbyists alike, The Annotated Mona Lisa is a crash course in visual studies surveying time and the globe. Through concise summaries and helpful text boxes, this volume demystifies pieces from the prehistoric ages to contemporary installation works.

  • Over three hundred illustrations
  • Is an updated third edition
  • Content is not very diverse

Brand The Annotated Mona Lisa
Model pending
Weight 1.6 pounds
Rating 3.7 / 5.0

8. Janson’s History, Volume 1

Although it focuses mainly on Europe and the Western canon, this reissued 8th edition of Janson’s History, Volume 1 is written with an interesting angle: it concentrates on the importance of the artist’s role in society, as well as the method by which pieces were made.

  • Contributed to by many authors
  • Language is particularly eloquent
  • Does not cover some world regions

Brand imusti
Model pending
Weight 3.7 pounds
Rating 3.7 / 5.0

7. Ways of Seeing

Based on a BBC TV show of the same name, Ways of Seeing is an essential volume for any student of aesthetics. John Berger introduces relatively complex ideas and critiques of how Western culture views media in a fluid, accessible way — including one purely visual essay.

  • Focuses on theory
  • Influenced by walter benjamin
  • Images are black and white

Brand Penguin Books
Model pending
Weight 12.8 ounces
Rating 3.8 / 5.0

6. Nineteenth Century

Intended for college students dabbling or majoring in the subject, Nineteenth Century delves into painting, sculpture, and photography during that period. Those looking to develop an up-to-date critical imagination and an appreciation of canonized works will also enjoy it.

  • Explores complex theory and ideas
  • Images in color and black and white
  • Fourth edition has revised chapters

Brand Nineteenth Century
Model pending
Weight 4.3 pounds
Rating 4.0 / 5.0

5. Art in China

For a solid overview of the largest Asian country’s tradition, Art in China covers the development of its visual culture over the past five thousand years. Encompassing early religious pieces as well as contemporary media works, this is a great introduction to the region.

  • Many different types of work
  • Writing is engaging and accessible
  • Over a hundred illustrations

Brand Oxford University Press
Model pending
Weight 1.4 pounds
Rating 3.8 / 5.0

4. Marilyn Stokstad and Michael W. Cothren

Now in its 6th edition, this global survey of visual culture by Marilyn Stokstad and Michael W. Cothren is updated to reflect developments in research, classroom technology, and perspectives on the canon. With color images, it will inspire anyone to appreciate the subject.

  • Covers prehistoric and modern works
  • Written in an accessible tone
  • Excellent introduction to the field

Brand Marilyn Stokstad and Mi
Model pending
Weight 8.1 pounds
Rating 4.5 / 5.0

3. Art in Africa

Intended for Western audiences, Art in Africa critiques and rethinks the colonial frameworks within which objects from the continent have historically been studied and seen. Uniquely, it also discusses contemporary works in the context of a global aesthetic conversation.

  • Fresh approach to the topic
  • Surveys ancient and modern pieces
  • Provides an indigenous perspective

Brand Unknown
Model pending
Weight 3.8 pounds
Rating 4.7 / 5.0

2. H.H. Arnason and Elizabeth C. Mansfield

Covering both aesthetic trends and the social conditions that inspired them, this overview of Modern works by H.H. Arnason and Elizabeth C. Mansfield is a great source for freshmen and graduate students alike. Plus, it’s inclusive of pieces by women and people of color.

  • Images are very high quality
  • Discusses architecture as well
  • Challenging and in-depth analyses

Brand Pearson
Model pending
Weight 5.7 pounds
Rating 4.1 / 5.0

1. Gardner’s Through the Ages

First published in the 1920s and now in its 14th edition, Gardner’s Through the Ages is a thorough resource on global visual culture throughout history. Unique components include a scale that shows the real size of each piece, and summaries at the end of each chapter.

  • Goes beyond the western canon
  • Updated by a seasoned professor
  • Begins with the stone age

Brand Gardner’s Through the A
Model pending
Weight 9 pounds
Rating 4.7 / 5.0