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Taking Notes & Preparing for an Exam

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Taking Notes

Taking notes in an art history class is crucial. It is not just enough to read the required textbook but often in class a teacher’s lecture on the work is enriched with their background knowledge of other scholars work, academic articles, their own research, etc.

First, write down the slide identification (that most teachers provide) or begin writing down the title when mentioned, date, medium of the work, and location, as these details will most likely be on the text. Next, it is best to do shorthand notes as the teacher will most likely cover a large amount of information. It is not enough to just discuss the image as a whole but to narrow in on some details of the work that the teacher will often outline. Also it is best to include any historical information given one can later use in an essay as well as history often helps identify style.

Notes Example:

Botticelli, Birth of Venus: 1480 Botticelli painting. Created for Medici family, reflects the Medici interest in Classical themes and the revival of Plato’s philosophy that had led to the founding of the Platonic Academy in Florence. Relaxed pose suggest just waking up. Wind coming from left. Possible same model of Prima Vera but opposite sides of it (two were probably hung together). Aphrodite born from sea foam. Venus floating to shore, flowers blowing. Figure on right is wreathed in laurel, given Aphrodite robe, symbol of life and reincarnation.

Preparing for an Exam

There are various ways to prepare for an art history exam. The best course of action to take is to make flashcards with the image on one side and the title, artist, medium, location, and at least 5 facts on the other side that could include historical information, style, iconography, etc. For remembering dates a timeline might come in handy. Then, it is just a matter of reviewing your cards and memorizing the information – repetition, repetition, repetition.

Since the exam will most likely have a compare and contrast essay, also begin making comparisons between the works of art studied in class and how each piece can possibly relate to one another.