Art History History... History
Even though I was an English major, my favorite course in college was art history. I took it because I was already interested in art, but I had no idea how inspiring it would be (full credit goes, of course, to the two professors who made it that way). If I were less pragmatic than I am, I might have switched my major, but I stuck with something hardheaded, practical, and eminently exploitable—English.
Our principal text was Janson’s History of Art which I learned has just been revised. That’s news because the changes are extensive (some of art history is now history) and significant, because it’s the backbone of so many art-history courses.
I’m not sure these revisions would have a major impact on the course I took, however. We didn’t hew that closely to the Janson text. What we were taught to do was look very closely at a work and try to see as much as we could see and use that experience to develop in ourselves a kind of heuristic for looking at art.
There were other books that were far more influential on me than Janson. Two I would single out are Mainstreams of Modern Art by John Canady and The Painted Word by Tom Wolfe. Both of these helped me begin to understand non-representational art so that I could move beyond the Norman Rockwell stage of art appreciation. Although Janson didn’t change my life, I was grateful to the book in one respect. The edition we used included photography (earlier ones didn’t), and it was my first exposure to some of the great photographers, particularly Robert Frank.