How to Look at and Understand Great Art

Featuring masterpieces from 250+ of the world's greatest artists, this in-depth guide to the practical skill of viewing art will help you reach new levels of appreciation.
How to Look at and Understand Great Art is rated 4.7 out of 5 by 203.
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Rated 5 out of 5 by from Great for new learners! I started out with very little knowledge, and by the end of the course I felt very informed, and inspired to continue my learning into the future. The lecturer is fantastic, funny, and keeps my attention. I am very sad that this course is over!
Date published: 2021-05-16
Rated 5 out of 5 by from just wonderful Dr. Hirsh is so nice! She's clear and thorough and amusing too. Really a perfect instructor. She obviously knows her stuff and she transmits her enthusiasm as well as her knowledge. The examples are abundant and done very well. This is an excellent course!
Date published: 2021-04-23
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Helpful Review of Important Artists I'm not a museum rat or avid member of the art community, but I enjoy art. Having taken a college class on the History and Appreciation of Art long ago, supplemented by taking seminars and attending art auctions on cruise ships, I have a fundamental understanding of periods and what differentiates them. This draws some sharper lines and perhaps will help me appreciate modern art a bit more, as in the past that often has left me with the opinion that I could reproduce a "masterpiece" in an hour if my inhibitions had been lowered by Happy Hour. In any case, as with electives I took in college, this helps round out my world a bit, which is always a good thing.
Date published: 2021-04-11
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Practical and Interesting This is a great course for those who want to learn about the basics and fundamentals of exactly what the title says. She shows many examples, and it's a great mini-course in the time periods of great art. I highly recommend this course.
Date published: 2021-03-25
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Wonderful information and delivery Professor Hirsh presents information with enthusiasm, respect for the student, and enough detail to be interesting but not overwhelm. Her delivery is dynamic and easy to listen to. I thoroughly enjoyed the course and am sure it will enhance my enjoyment of art greatly. I absolutely recommend this course, especially to someone like me, who has never studied art before.
Date published: 2021-02-11
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Informative, entertaining and useful A wonderful series of lectures by Dr. Hirsh - she manages to convey a great deal of useful information in an engaging manner - I am looking forward to my next museum visit with all the tools she has provided.
Date published: 2021-02-07
Rated 5 out of 5 by from New birth for me I feel as if I have been reborn into a world I never knew existed. Professor Hirsh is a magnificent teacher. Her presentation was very human and easy to relate to. I am happy to say that I passed the course identifying the periods approximately 80%! I shocked myself and cannot wait to go to our local museum. Thank you so much.
Date published: 2021-02-06
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Wonderful and Expansive Course! As an engineer and bit of a nerd, I have had no background in Art Appreciation. But I have always been a great admirer of the visual arts. I LOVE this course. Dr. Hirsh's knowledge and enthusiasm are so engaging. It is one of the few courses I've taken with TGCP (and I have taken many), where I could not bear to watch the final lecture and instead started again back on Lecture 1. What a rich experience! Thank you Dr. Hirsh! I will never view art in the same way again.
Date published: 2021-01-12
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Overview

The 36 richly illustrated lectures of How to Look at and Understand Great Art take you on an in-depth exploration of the practical skill of viewing art through the lenses of line, light, perspective, composition, and other crucial elements. Using timeless masterpieces of Western art as well as hands-on studio demonstrations, Professor Sharon Latchaw Hirsh gives you the specific visual and interpretive knowledge you need to enhance your appreciation of great art.

About

Sharon Latchaw Hirsh
Sharon Latchaw Hirsh

At Rosemont College we seek 'joy in the pursuit of knowledge.' I believe learning new ideas, or realizing something on your own brings joy. I create my lectures to stimulate this experience by making them as enjoyable as possible.

INSTITUTION

Rosemont College

Dr. Sharon Latchaw Hirsh has served as president of Rosemont College since 2006. She completed her undergraduate degree in the history of art and studio art at Rosemont and earned her M.A. and Ph.D. in the history of art from the University of Pittsburgh. Professor Hirsh's awards include the Charles A. Dana Award for Distinguished Teaching, the Ganoe Award for Inspirational Teaching, and the Lindback Award for Distinguished Teaching from Dickinson College. She served as a senior fellow at the Center for Advanced Studies in the Visual Arts at the National Gallery of Art, Washington, and as a visiting scholar at the University of Colorado, the Swiss Institute for Art Research, and the Art Institute of Chicago.

By This Professor

How to Look at and Understand Great Art

Trailer

The Importance of First Impressions

01: The Importance of First Impressions

Examine the contexts and environments in which we encounter art and their critical effect on our viewing experience. Consider ways of displaying and framing paintings, as well as key parameters for viewing sculpture. Then, learn the predominant genres of Western art, and the artist's media, tools, and techniques....

34 min
Where Am I? Point of View and Focal Point

02: Where Am I? Point of View and Focal Point

Explore how point of view-the artist's positioning of the viewer with respect to the image-works in painting and sculpture, paying particular attention to differences in angle and spatial relation. Then, continue with focal point, or the artist's centering of attention on a key area of the work....

30 min
Color-Description, Symbol, and More

03: Color-Description, Symbol, and More

Uncover the core principles of color in painting, including the distinctions of value and saturation and the relationship of colors as analogous or complementary. See how major works of art achieve their power and meaning through color, as seen in celebrated canvases by Seurat, Gauguin, and Van Gogh....

29 min
Line-Description and Expression

04: Line-Description and Expression

Discover the properties of line, another essential element of art, as "descriptive" (describing reality) or "expressional" (conveying feeling). Learn about the use of geometric lines, implied lines, and directional lines within a composition. Also, study the compelling, psychological use of line in Picasso's works, Seurat's The Circus, and in key Modern and Expressionist works....

30 min
Space, Shape, Shade, and Shadow

05: Space, Shape, Shade, and Shadow

Examine geometric and "organic" shapes in painting and sculpture and the crucial relationship of figure to ground and mass to space. Then, explore the illusionistic use of shading, shadows, and overlapping shapes in Caravaggio's and Friedrich's works, and the compositional power of shapes in paintings such as Matisse's Dance and Michelangelo's Creation of Adam....

30 min
Seeing the Big Picture-Composition

06: Seeing the Big Picture-Composition

Define symmetry and asymmetry in painting and sculpture, and the key effects on the viewer of each. Also, study scale and proportion of figures, and the distinction between "open" and "closed" composition, reflecting the artist's approach to visually framing the image....

30 min
The Illusion-Getting the Right Perspective

07: The Illusion-Getting the Right Perspective

Tracking the history of illusionism in Western art, grasp the principles of linear perspective, foreshortening, and atmospheric perspective as they replicate how the human eye perceives. See how artists, including Cezanne and Van Gogh, manipulated perspective for their own creative ends, and observe the extreme illusionism of trompe l'oeil and anamorphosis....

29 min
Art That Moves Us-Time and Motion

08: Art That Moves Us-Time and Motion

Explore how artists evoke motion and the passage of time, including implying motion through strong directional lines and time through narrative devices. Study approaches to implied motion in Impressionism, Abstract Expressionism, and Op art, and the use of actual motion in performance art and modern sculpture....

29 min
Feeling with Our Eyes-Texture and Light

09: Feeling with Our Eyes-Texture and Light

Here, consider texture in sculpture as an aid to meaning in sculptures by Rodin, Donatello, and Bernini, and the painter's use of paint as a way to capture texture and light on canvas. Then observe the virtuoso representation of texture by master painters Ingres and Titian, and the handling of light and shadow in works by Renoir and Georges de la Tour....

29 min
Drawing-Dry, Liquid, and Modern Media

10: Drawing-Dry, Liquid, and Modern Media

In this first lecture on genre, define the various purposes of drawings, from "croquis" drawing to capture a pose or action, to successive sketches visualizing larger works, to finished drawings as a distinct art. Study the diverse media of drawing, focusing on master drawings in metalpoint, charcoal, ink, pastel, and pencil....

31 min
Printmaking-Relief and Intaglio

11: Printmaking-Relief and Intaglio

The medium of prints attracted great artists from Dürer and Rembrandt to Ensor and Picasso. Using studio demonstrations, study the expressive means and contrasting techniques of relief printmaking, including woodcut, wood engraving, and linocut, and intaglio printmaking, including metal engraving, etching, mezzotint, and aquatint....

33 min
Modern Printmaking-Planographic

12: Modern Printmaking-Planographic

This lecture explores the art of planographic printmaking, which allows artists to draw or paint directly on the printing surface. In detailed demonstrations and works by Daumier, Degas, and Warhol, grasp the techniques of lithography, silkscreen, and monotype, and explore the mastery of Whistler's lithograph Nocturne: The Thames at Battersea....

29 min
Sculpture-Salt Cellars to Monuments

13: Sculpture-Salt Cellars to Monuments

Sculpture, as a genre, encompasses the full spectrum of three-dimensional artworks. In this lecture, investigate the varieties and viewing contexts of relief and in-the-round sculptures-from monumental public works and religious and historical subjects to assemblage, collage, found objects, and large-scale "earth art"-noting the technical distinction between subtractive and additive work...

31 min
Development of Painting-Tempera and Oils

14: Development of Painting-Tempera and Oils

Trace the history and technique of painting, beginning with the methodology of panel painting on wood; fresco painting, both wet and dry; and finally, oil painting and watercolor. Learn about types of oil paint, the mixing of colors, brushwork techniques, and the 19th-century phenomenon of plein air (outdoor) painting....

29 min
Modern Painting-Acrylics and Assemblages

15: Modern Painting-Acrylics and Assemblages

The lecture opens with a historical panorama of painting techniques, highlighting the diverse treatment of human faces. Then, it tracks 20th-century developments in nontraditional materials and methods of application, including the techniques of Frank Stella, Helen Frankenthaler, and Jackson Pollock, as well as the contrasting strengths and mixed use of oil and acrylics....

31 min
Subject Matters

16: Subject Matters

Focusing on masterworks by Van Eyck and Rubens, define three levels of iconography (subject matter). Also study the academic codifying and ranking of subject matter in art, probing subject and deeper meaning in a variety of religious and history paintings, still lifes, landscapes, portraits, and genre works....

30 min
Signs-Symbols, Icons, and Indexes in Art

17: Signs-Symbols, Icons, and Indexes in Art

The richness of signs (signifiers) in art includes the use of symbols, icons, and indexes as they reveal layers of meaning. See how, in different historical eras, symbolic associations change over time, how icons visually represent a subject, and how indexes exhibit direct connections with the thing signified....

32 min
Portraits-How Artists See Others

18: Portraits-How Artists See Others

In examining the diverse functions and types of portraits, study the important elements of facial presentation and the subject's position and gaze with relation to the viewer and the pictorial space. See how Rembrandt added dramatic power to his group "corporation" portraits, and how David carefully rendered Napoleon in symbolic terms....

32 min
Self-Portraits-How Artists See Themselves

19: Self-Portraits-How Artists See Themselves

Across the centuries, self-portraits fascinatingly reveal the changing role of the artist. Follow this progression, from Renaissance painters subtly placing themselves within large compositions, to self-portraiture's emergence as a major form of self-revelation, noting many dramatic and colorful traditions within the form....

31 min
Landscapes-Art of the Great Outdoors

20: Landscapes-Art of the Great Outdoors

In this lecture on landscape painting, observe the classical, balanced division into foreground, middle, and background, and how Romantic painters altered these proportions to express drama, infinite space, and the sublime. Discover proportion and composition in landscapes of the Hudson River school, Luminism, Impressionism, and also the subgenres of seascapes and cityscapes....

32 min
Putting It All Together

21: Putting It All Together

This lecture integrates elements including color, line, shape, composition, light, symbolism, point of view, and focal point. Using the viewing tools you've developed, look deeply at four diverse masterpieces, including a sculpture by Thorvaldsen, a "vanitas" still life by Van Oosterwyck, a lithograph by Bonnard, and a painting by Van der Weyden....

31 min
Early Renaissance-Humanism Emergent

22: Early Renaissance-Humanism Emergent

Contemplate the Renaissance phenomena of classicism and humanism in 15th-century Italian art, which focused-even in religious art-on the human body, nature, and depictions of earthly life and the individual. Learn how to recognize Early Renaissance art in characteristic subject matter and stylistic technique....

28 min
Northern Renaissance-Devil in the Details

23: Northern Renaissance-Devil in the Details

Flanders and Germany also witnessed an explosion of art in the 15th and early 16th centuries. Define the stylistics of great Northern Renaissance oil painting, such as the use of cool light, richness of detail, and the depiction of fabric. Conclude by charting the development of the historical "canon" of universally recognized artworks....

31 min
High Renaissance-Humanism Perfected

24: High Renaissance-Humanism Perfected

The Italian High Renaissance saw the full flowering of humanism and classicism. With reference to the era's thought and practice, delve into masterpieces by three of history's greatest geniuses: Raphael, Leonardo, and Michelangelo. Last, explore the composition of Raphael's School of Athens as it represents the sublime embodiment of High Renaissance ideals....

31 min
Mannerism and Baroque-Distortion and Drama

25: Mannerism and Baroque-Distortion and Drama

Two important artistic movements followed the High Renaissance. Beginning with late Michelangelo, Tibaldi, and El Greco, explore the hallmarks of Mannerism, including deliberate distortions of proportion and perspective and use of tertiary colors. Then, in the works of Caravaggio, Rubens, and others, define the essence of Baroque art in its dramatic, exuberant expansion of classical style....

31 min
Going Baroque-North versus South

26: Going Baroque-North versus South

Baroque style flowered in key regional variations. See the influence of the Counter-Reformation in southern Europe in dazzling religious images intended to excite and teach. Grasp the classical ethos of French Baroque and the Dutch diversity of subject matter and dramatic use of light and space in the North....

31 min
18th-Century Reality and Decorative Rococo

27: 18th-Century Reality and Decorative Rococo

The sensuality of Rococo art mirrors 18th-century upper-class lifestyle and sensibility. Explore the evocation of intimate hedonism in Watteau, Boucher, Fragonard, and other Rococo masters, specifically through their imagery of lovers, social life, and pastoral pleasure. Then, define Rococo style in its graceful curves and characteristic use of paint and color....

29 min
Revolutions-Neoclassicism and Romanticism

28: Revolutions-Neoclassicism and Romanticism

The early 19th century saw the emergence of two compelling and highly contrasting styles. Referencing the art of Napoleonic painter Jacques-Louis David, discover the tenets of Neoclassicism, specifically its ordered composition and emphasis on stoicism, morality, and rational control. In works by Eugène Delacroix, find the spirit of Romanticism and its concern with dramatic proportions, emo...

32 min
From Realism to Impressionism

29: From Realism to Impressionism

In canvases of Millet, Courbet, and Manet, observe the Realist ideals of honesty, simplicity, and descriptive colors in revealing contemporary experience. Then, explore the phenomenon of Impressionism, highlighting Renoir, Monet, and Degas-their fascination with natural light, quest to capture the moment, and iconic subject matter of middle-class leisure life....

32 min
Postimpressionism-Form and Content Re-Viewed

30: Postimpressionism-Form and Content Re-Viewed

The term "Postimpressionism" comprises a varied and highly innovative body of art. Here, learn how Postimpressionist painters such as Cezanne and Seurat were driven by what they perceived as a loss of form in Impressionist art. See also how Symbolists Gauguin and Munch used increasing abstraction to convey deeper psychological meanings....

31 min
Expressionism-Empathy and Emotion

31: Expressionism-Empathy and Emotion

In defining the bold sensibility of Expressionism, explore its use of violent colors, stylistic distortions, and sculptural application of paint. Also contemplate its influences (including contemporary philosophers as well as Freud) and its goal to provoke empathy and thus touch the viewer at the innermost level....

32 min
Cubism-An Experiment in Form

32: Cubism-An Experiment in Form

Investigate the visual elements and the three phases of this hugely influential movement, based in its geometric fracturing of forms and multiple, interlocking meanings of line and shape. Find borrowings and echoes of Braque's and Picasso's Cubism in diverse 20th-century painters and experiments in Cubist-derived sculpture....

30 min
Abstraction/Modernism-New Visual Language

33: Abstraction/Modernism-New Visual Language

Abstraction and Modernism forged a daring new definition of art, breaking dramatically with the past. Discover the philosophical and experiential underpinnings of abstraction and nonrepresentational art, now radically freed from imitating nature. Encounter art's new language in visionary works by Kandinsky, Marc, Pollock, De Kooning, and others....

31 min
Dada Found Objects/Surreal Doodles and Dreams

34: Dada Found Objects/Surreal Doodles and Dreams

Contemplate the "anti-art" spirit of Dadaism, its nihilistic yet humorous indictment of civilization and bizarre use of unconventional media. In the sensibility of Surrealism, observe its compelling focus on the subconscious and two substyles-dream imagery, with its juxtaposition of objects and settings, and "automatic drawing," eliciting unplanned images from the unconscious....

31 min
Postmodernism-Focus on the Viewer

35: Postmodernism-Focus on the Viewer

In the 1960s, Pop art, Op art, and minimalism brought yet another far-reaching redefinition of art. Learn to recognize these three distinct postmodern visions, and see how they shared a common rejection of the traditional focus on the artist, aiming instead to create works that exist only for the viewer's interpretation....

29 min
Your Next Museum Visit-Do It Yourself!

36: Your Next Museum Visit-Do It Yourself!

The final lecture opens with a detailed and thought-provoking guide to museum-going. Consider ways of making the most of visits to permanent collections and special exhibitions in both large and small museums. Conclude with a sumptuous review involving masterworks from the many eras, movements, and schools you've looked at....

34 min