The Art of the Western World

Contributor: Brian Anthony. Lesson ID: 11797

We can tell a bit about a society and culture by the art they produce. A walk through a virtual art gallery can be a virtual walk through history. Study and write about Western art and its changes!


Visual Arts, World

Fine Arts
learning style
personality style
Otter, Golden Retriever
Grade Level
High School (9-12)
Lesson Type
Dig Deeper

Lesson Plan - Get It!


If you were to study the history of Western art, it would take you weeks, months, or even years.

It might be wise to start with a big-picture overview. Take a look at this time-lapse video, 500 Years of Female Portraits in Western Art by Philip Scott Johnson:


How has art changed over the centuries?

The world is a mighty big place, and its history is certainly littered with intricacies beyond the words of any textbook.

If we were to study the entire history of the world, it would be an impossible task. We have to divide history into parts we can deal with, and that's why we break off parts according to geographic location, time period, and theme. We use literature and art from specific geographic locations and time periods to fill in the gaps of untold stories, and to help us more fully understand the lives of those who came before us.

Applying the strategy of "chunking," if you will, the past into location and era, will help us understand the history of art. The nations and peoples of the world have many remarkable art works that inspire us with their beauty and vision. In this lesson, we will closely examine the history of just one tradition in the history of art: Western art.

Western art is simply the artistic traditions that grew out of Western civilizations. What do we mean though, by "Western civilizations," or "Western cultures"?

Let's take a look at a brief outline of Western history to try to collect some ideas about what makes the West a region or civilization we can study. As you read, write down information and ideas to answer the following questions:

  • What are the geographic boundaries of the West ?
  • What are cultural and other elements that connect the peoples of Western civilization?
  • Why don't we study, say, Chinese art or Pacific Islander art as part of the Western artistic tradition?

Now, read the article, A brief history of Western culture, by Dr. Beth Harris and Dr. Steven Zucker, courtesy of Khan Academy. Share your findings with your parent or teacher, then reflect on the following questions and discuss:

  • Why would it be useful to study the art of a single civilization?
  • Why might it be useful to compare art across civilizations?
  • What are the different types of art that have arisen in the history of Western civilization?

Now that you have examined the idea of Western civilization, you can focus on the art that this civilization produced.

In the Got It? section, you will examine works of art and create your own art history timeline.

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