Art History Buffness

Some of you may have noticed the new list of “40 Books that Art History Buffs Love,” which was recently compiled by Accredited Online Colleges. I looked through the list, and noticed that I have read (or at least read a good portion from) twelve out of the forty books listed. By my calculations, that means that I’m 30% of an art history buff, right?

I tweeted about my 30% buff-ness online, and my friend heidenkind jokingly made me this button. (I think she threw in an extra 10% for good measure, which is great – then I get a little bit of a reading buffer while building up my buff-ness!)

What percentage of art historical buff-ness are you? Any books that you want to read from the list, or have no desire to read? I think there are a lot more books that I would add to the list (why isn’t there anything by Winckelmann or Burckhardt?!?). And I’d probably take out a few books that are on there – I’ve never even heard of the Cezanne book by Rainer Maria Rilke…

  • heidenkind says:

    Haha! Here's my button: Except I miscalculated and I'm actually 5% buff. Sigh… me and numbers, it's not pretty.

    Why isn't Gombrich on there? Very odd.

  • H Niyazi says:

    I dont want to sound like a grumpy old man yelling at kids to get of his lawn, but that site is a toplist for an online education referrers – deisgned purely with search engine optimisation in mind and to lure traffic. They contribute nothing to art historical discourse online and should be ignored.

    Besides, they left off Edgar Wind's 'Pagan Mysteries in the Renaissance' and thus obviously dont know what theyre talking about 🙂

    For those that arent aware of the toplist scourge – more info here:


  • Val S. says:

    Well, it's still an interesting list. With an overabundance of information, it's good to have a few titles mentioned, no matter who mentions them (sorry for playing on the lawn – in cleats).

    Gombrich is there, Heidenkind.

  • M says:

    Oh, Gombrich is on there, heidenkind. He's number #18. Yeah, I would have been really surprised if he didn't appear on the list. Then we could have written off this list completely. 😉

    This list is no means comprehensive, and it obviously has a slant toward Renaissance-Modern art. (Plus, I think it's fairly obvious that the writers were trying to appeal to a wider base of readers than just art historical scholars.) Nonetheless, I think it's kind of fun to see what someone has compiled. Perhaps I'll compile my own list one day.

    H Niyazi, I understand why you don't like these kind of sites. (And in writing this lighthearted post, I didn't even occur to me that you would have be bothered. Sorry!) I definitely don't view this list in any kind of authoritative or scholarly way. I just think it's fun to see a compilation which discusses so many seminal art history texts.

  • M says:

    Val S – Thanks for commenting. I think it's an interesting list, too. I don't think it's the best list in the world, but it's quite fun.

  • Kiersten says:

    I have only read six from the list–and I don't think I read any of those in their entirety. It would be interesting to see lists for more subject-specific aspects of art history, since, for example, an Americanist focusing on ephemera would have a whole different repertoire of readings than a scholar on Scandinavian modernism.

  • Benjamin (Ben) says:

    The Rilke Book on Cezanne is good, but I certainly wouldn't put it above, say, Fry or Schapiro's books on the artist. And, of course, they weren't even conceived as a book…. Well I thought this was fun, if only as an excuse to provoke disagreement. (And isn't that why people write these lists in the first place–I mean apart from luring traffic?)
    Who wants to add, subtract, and substitute a text? Here are mine.
    Add: Something by Baxandall (say "Painting and Experience…")
    Subtract: Gardner's Art Through The Ages.
    Substitute: Take away Barthes's Image, Music, Text and replace it with his Camera Lucida. (I'd also substitute the TJ Clark text for an earlier one by him–Image of the People? Painting of Modern life?)

  • Benjamin (Ben) says:

    "they" meaning Rilke's letters. Sorry!

  • [c] @ penbrushneedle says:

    I'm afraid I have to side with H Niyazi on this one and join the grumpy old men fraction 😉
    I mean, seriously, anyone who'll come up with "EDWIN Panofsky" clearly doesn't have a profound art historical background hirself and IMHO shouldn't be advising others on their art historical reading.

    Besides, judging by your blog, I'd say that your "art history buff-ness" is definitely much higher than only 40%, so why would you want to be judged by the stuff you read rather than by the stuff you write?

  • Benjamin (Ben) says:

    On a related note, the Burlington Magazine has an ongoing series where scholars discuss a classic art-historical text (all written in the 20th-C, I think). Some seem to be available for free as PDFs.

    Stonard on Kenneth Clark's The Nude in Art:

    Christopher Wood on Gombrich's Art and Illusion:

    Anyone know whether there's a full list of these reviews somewhere?



  • M says:

    Thanks for the comments!

    Kiersten: I agree! I've already wondered what kind of list I would recommend to someone interested in Baroque art.

    Ben: I would probably put Schapiro and Baxandall on my list, as well. And I like how these lists generate discussion (and disagreement!) too. Even if this isn't a fantastic list, I think it causes art historians to consider what types of books they particularly value. Also, thanks for listing the Burlington Magazine reviews. I wasn't aware of those. They look interesting and informative.

    c@penbrushneedle: I can see what you are saying about a the compiler lacking a "profound art historical background." If one was looking for art historical profundity, this wouldn't be the list to view. 🙂 And thanks for your kind comment regarding my "buff-ness." I definitely feel more than 40% buff (and I hope that my slightly sarcastic tone came through in this post)!

    That being said, there always are more mental workouts that need to be done – either through reading or writing. I'll keep looking for opportunities to build and flex my art historical muscles. 🙂

  • Adam Glenn says:

    I'm sure I haven't read any of the books on the list. I suppose I'm not buff. However, I thoroughly enjoy reading your posts, so that should count for something.

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This blog focuses on making Western art history accessible and interesting to all types of audiences: art historians, students, and anyone else who is curious about art. Alberti’s Window is maintained by Monica Bowen, an art historian and professor.