The Art of Understanding Art
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The Art of Understanding Art reveals to students and other readers new and meaningful ways of developing personal ideas and opinions about art and how to express them with confidence.

Offers an inquiry—unique among introductory art texts—into the learning process of understanding and appreciating artExamines the multiple issues and processes essential to making, analyzing and evaluating artUses cross-cultural examples to help readers develop comprehensive, yet personal, ways of looking at and thinking about artIncludes an annotated glossary of the 'Art World', institutions and individuals that play a role in defining art as well as diagrams, textboxes callouts and other visual elements to highlight information and enhance learningRichly illustrated with over 40 imagesSuggests innovative class assignments and projects useful for developing lesson plans, and offers an online companion site for additional illustrations and information


Irina D. Costache, Ph.D., is an art historian and Professor of Art History at California State University Channel Islands. Her innovative teaching methodologies have been recognized with awards and grants. She has curated several exhibitions, including Postmodern Calligraphies, Nature and/or Technology and Line and Color. Her presentations and publications include This is Not a Painting: Art History and the Internet, Visual Culture/ Virtual Art, Italian Futurism and the Decorative Arts, and Futurist Film: an Incomplete Project.


Acknowledgments xiii

Why Should Art Matter to You? A Message to Art Beginners xv

Introduction: What Is Art? xvi

Navigating the Book: A User's Guide xxi

Why Is Art Made? The Purposes of Art: A Brief Overview from A to Z xxiv

The Anatomy of a Work of Art xxxii


1 Artists and Patrons 3

Artists and Creators 3

The Creative Process: Inspiration and Influences 14

Patronage 17

2 Environment, Materials, and Other Resources 22

Environment 23

Materials, Tools, and Technology 27

Other Resources: Knowledge and Information 36

3 Context 38

Cultural Context 39

Historical, Political, and Religious Context 43

Societal Context 48

Conclusion to Part One 53


4 The Dissemination of Original Art 57

Institutions 57

Beyond Institutional Walls 71

Art and Business 73

5 The Dissemination of Art through Reproductions, and Other Issues 77

Publications, Presentations, and Lectures 78

The Mass Media 80

Today's Art World 86

Conclusion to Part Two 90


6 Visual Resources Used to Analyze Art 93

The Work of Art 94

Visual Documentation and Research 103

7 Textual and Other Resources Used To Analyze Art 109

Primary Textual Sources 110

Secondary Textual Sources 114

Additional Resources for Research 117

Comparisons 119

8 A Critical Examination of Art Classification 126

Reflections on Art Classification 126

Chronology and Artistic Periods 130

Media 132

Fine Art/High Art 132

Graphic Arts 137

"Minor Arts" 137

Architecture 138

Other Categories 139

Conclusion to Part Three 142


9 Interpreting Art: Criteria and Values 145

Preconceived Ideas about Art 146

Modern Art and the Audience 148

Artistic Values and Art Appreciation 150

Modernism 152

Postmodernism 155

Interpreting Art: Getting Started 157

Looking at and Interpreting Art 158

10 Methodologies of Art 162

Introduction to Art Methodologies 163

Art Interpretation: Case Study 173

Summary 179

Notes 179

Conclusion 180

Appendix 1 The Art World 182

Appendix 2 Creative Assignments and Writing Projects 189

Appendix 3 Glossary 194

Appendix 4 "Tools of the Trade" Diagrams: Form and

Content (1-5) and Art Media (6-8) 210

List of Figures and Color Plates 218

Bibliography 220

Index 227


“Through its refreshing, innovative approach to its subject, its short, thoughtful essays, and its selective case studies, Irina Costache's The Art of Understanding Art gives students and educators of art history a valuable new resource.”
- Clare Kunny, The J. Paul Getty Museum

“The Art of Understanding Art offers the readers multi-layered approaches to the visual history of being human, and to interpreting these visual representations; and it has very engaging creative assignments and writing projects for each chapter.”
- Laura Ruby, University of Hawai’i–Manoa

“Costache goes far beyond any other introductory text in its range of inquiry and examples, and the extent to which she maps out the art world, including the academic world the students who will be using the book find themselves in.  Instead of talking about only works by Monet and Van Gogh, in museums that none will visit, she connects the dots between the odd and perplexing stuff students are likely to see being made around them by fellow art students or faculty, and the art hanging in museums."
- Bruce Robertson, Professor, History of Art and Architecture, and Acting Director, Art, Design & Architecture Museum, UC Santa Barbara