Art Exhibition Class

Exhibition Planning &
Gallery Management

MODULE 5 > Social Art History Review & Proposal






Listen to the in-class lecture and participate in the class discussion.

Students have to turn in their art review or show proposal each week.

You should be ready to present your finished review or show proposal in class every week.


[  ] Write a review about the social history of an artwork or artworks in town (see below for details).


[  ] Make a show proposal poster for your exhibition about your favorite period of art and the influence of the culture and times on it.



Goal: To try to understand how the times an artist lives in can influence his or her work in a number of different ways, be it social, economic, political, etc.


Preparing to Write:

Start by taking down some notes about the following:

  • Look for how we accept or reject something as art from the point of view of the culture that the art object was produced for.
  • Look for how the artwork resists the dominant culture or how it proposes new ways of re-imagining culture and society, i.e., avant-gardism, formal innovation, etc.
  • Look for how an artwork educates us about repressive issues that we may have naturalized, social issues that we might overlook or political problems that may inform the work, i.e., how ideology functions.
  • Look for how an artwork maps key critical issues in our times and creates a greater understanding of our present conditions, i.e., social and historical conflicts.
  • Look for how a work of art creates tensions about issues of exploitation, class, race, gender as well as any other form of social control where art can act as a site of autonomy for the artist from cultural conditioned mores and traditions.


Writing Tips:

When you write an art review by considering the social context first you need to ask things like:

  • Ask who was this work created for and why?
  • Does it merely replicate the existing values of society or challenge them?
  • Does it comment on any particular system of sexual, social, political, or religious issues?
  • Does it open up new ways of seeing an issue or does the piece address any societal issues that create tension in the work?
  • Does the work help to map out a part of culture that allow us to think about it in a new and unexpected way?


Hint: In writing from a social art history perspective you want to inquire into the ideological motivations that influence style, form and content. Often, this means looking at the less than obvious lines of influence between mass culture and high art, between personal interests and political power, and most importantly between what society expects the artist to produce and what they actually produce. The emphasis should be placed on the struggle between society and artist.

Art Review: 3-5 paragraphs, 1.5 type, 3-5 pictures when possible.




















Optional Reading (Art 560):

[  ] A Short Guide to Writing About Art. By Sylvan Barnet. Chapter 6: Social History: The New Art History and Marxism

[  ] The Methodologies of Art: An Introduction. By Laurie Schneider Adams. Chapter 4: Contextual Approaches I: Marxism

[  ] Beginning Theory: An Introduction to Literary and Cultural Theory. By Peter Barry. Chapter 8: Marxist Criticism

[  ] Postmodern Perspectives: Issues in Contemporary  Art. By Howard Risatti. Part 2: Art and Society: Ideological Criticism

[  ] The Practices of Theory: Poststructuralism, Cultural Politics and Art History

By Keith Moxey. Chapter 2: Ideology




Online Resources

Social History of Art

History of Art and Social Historical Methodology

Aesthetics and Analysis: Social History of Art

Period Style




Social Art History Critics




Video Resources

Art and Society | Modern Art & Ideas




Social Art Criticism as Method

This method of writing is usually used to describe the social influence of living in a certain time and place on art production.

Example of a Social Art History review:




CLASS DISCUSSION - How much do the times we live in effect what we think of as being great art? 


Group Shows



Great Masters of the Ming Dynasty: Tang Yin, National Palace Museum, Taipei, 1,131,788.


800,000 +

Painters in Paris: 1895-1950, The Met, 2000-01, 883,620


700,000 +

Origins of Impressionism, The Met, 1994-95, 794,108


Post-Impressionism: from the Musee d’Orsay, National Art Center, Tokyo. 2010, 777, 551.


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