Everything You Need To Know About Shmoop Introduction to Art History

This blog post was originally published in www.missautodidact.com

Each year, hundreds of high school and university students around the globe take art history. Some are genuinely interested in it while others are merely trying to complete a prerequisite. Art history is a fascinating subject. In this post, I’ll be writing about my experience and opinions on Shmoop Introduction to Art History course.

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Shmoop is a digital publishing company offering free learning guides, online courses, college readiness prep, and test prep for grade school and high school students.  They offer mostly-free learning materials on topics from Shakespeare to statistics, created by Ph.D. and Masters students from prestigious U.S. colleges. 

However, Shmoop isn’t your typical educational website. Information is presented in unique, quirky, conversational, and humorous format.

Shmoop is fun and I like fun! 


Art history majors are unfairly stereotyped as pompous, self-centered, spoiled rich kids.

The subject is considered by many as elitist- just take a look at the long list of mostly born-wealthy celebs who majored in it and the many royals who’ve studied it (shout to the royals who made the list: Prince William, Kate Middleton, and Princess Beatrice).

Let’s be honest- art history is probably one of the most difficult and completely irrelevant courses out there. 

Okay, maybe not totally irrelevant but in this economy, a degree in it just ain’t practical. 

So why should you study it anyway? Here are five compelling reasons to do so.

A book lured me into studying art history.

I decided to take art history after reading How to Win at College. Author and professor, Cal Newport advise college students to take an introductory course on art history and astronomy before graduating. He writes:

…take an introductory course that covers the Modern period….the subject [art history] is surprisingly difficult to learn on your own and taking a college course may be your last chance to become culturally literate in the fine arts. This is a skill that will serve you for a lifetime of museum visits and informed cocktail party conversation.

Case in point: My first and extremely awkward gallery opening experience.

I was once invited to a gallery exhibit by a friend whose dad was a prominent painter. The exhibit showcased some of her father’s paintings and would be auctioned off for charity. I remember standing idly at the side of the room feeling clueless and stupid.

Artsy jargon was being thrown around in conversations so I tried my best to avoid being talked to during the whole evening. I didn’t know anything about art and couldn’t tell the difference between Monet and Manet. An old lady even asked for my opinion on a certain Dadaist-inspired painting exhibited. Dada-what?! 

​It was pretty embarrassing. If only I studied art history sooner.


Shmoop Introduction to Art History is an incredibly difficult course. My original goal was to finish the course within a month but because I was failing my unit tests, I spent an extra month studying for the final and improving my unit tests scores. I barely passed this course, finishing with a lousy C.

What I Like - Shmoop Introduction to Art History

1. Shmoop Speaks Student

Shmoop was originally intended for junior high and high school students.

Their casual and silly descriptions of literature plots, scientific theories, and historical events try to explain things as clearly as possible using accessible language. 

At first, I was put off by it but came to appreciate it after I realized that I better understood the material when it was explained in a casual, entertaining way.
Also, I wasn’t as bored studying with Shmoop compared to reading traditional textbooks at StraighterLine.  

Shmoop’s vernacular might be off-putting to some snobby-high-pedestal-traditional academics but it has done something very few corporations do. They are intentionally funny and engaging while being incredibly educational.

2. Shmoop's customer service should be given a Pulitzer

Give ’em a Pulitzer, Oscar, or any highly coveted award because they deserve it- Shmoop’s customer service team is amazing! 

They respond to your emails really fast. They’re very polite and helpful. 

I mistakenly subscribed to the student plan not the College Plus, the subscription that lets you take ACE approved courses. I emailed Shmoop asking them to upgrade me to College Plus. I received a reply a few hours later.

Shmoop told me that they couldn’t upgrade me and happily refunded my $24.97 payment for the wrong subscription. They wrote down very clear instructions on how I can apply for College Plus. I followed them to a tee and finally was able to access ACE approved courses. 

There was also the time when I couldn’t log into my account. I typed in the correct username and password multiple times to no avail. I emailed Shmoop and received a reply within a few hours. 

Shmoop told me that my account was accidentally deleted and they’ve re-activated the account for me.

Then I suddenly remembered that I mistakenly clicked on the delete button three days earlier. 

Oops. My bad.

3. It's Super Cheap

Shmoop’s College Plus only costs $87.68 a month and allows you to take an unlimited amount of courses. You could knock out multiple courses in a month if you’re a super hardcore course taker.

4. The Certificate of Achievement Is a Nice Bonus

You earn a certificate of achievement after completing a Shmoop course. You can print it and post it on your refrigerator door if you like.

What I Didn't Like - Shmoop Introduction to Art History

1. Tedious Reading

The course requires you to do a heavy amount of tedious reading.

If you don’t manage your time well, you might end up wasting a lot of time reading through links of extensive encyclopedia articles on one lesson alone. 

Reading everything is time-consuming (and incredibly boring) but you have to. It could be on the exam. 

Occasionally, there will be questions on unimportant or unnecessary article details.

​The only way to know the answer is to read through everything- the main lesson, web links, news articles, essays, encyclopedia pages- in the lessons. 

2. Too Many Broken or Missing Links

Compared to Shmoop Media Literacy which only had few broken links, this course is chock full of ’em. 

Thankfully I found two ways around this by using Google search and Moz

First, I use Google search to either find the missing web link or find an alternative website with similar content. I use this method when I know the title of the article or video.  

When I’m stuck with a title less article or video, I use Moz to find the missing web link.

Moz is used primarily by web marketers for Search Engine Optimization (SEO). If you have no idea what that is, you might find using SEO software intimidating. Don’t fret. I’m here to help and its surprisingly easy. 

Here’s how to find a missing web link using Moz:

  1. Click here to use the free Moz Backlink Research Tool.
  2. Type in the URL of the missing web link. 
  3. Moz will automatically scan through thousands of websites and gives you a list of website pages that have the same web link you’re looking for.
  4. Under Inbound Links, you’ll find a table with five columns. Don’t worry about Column 3-5. You don’t need them.
  5. The 2nd column titled “Link Anchor Text” is where you’ll find your missing web link.
  6. Click on any of the highlighted links under Link Anchor Text.
  7. Congratulations! You’ve found the missing web link.

There are other ways to find missing links but these are the two methods I used while I took the course. Unfortunately, there is no guarantee that you’ll find the missing web link. If you’re searching yields no results, the next best thing is to find an alternative article or video on the topic, hopefully, something with similar content.

3. Exam questions are weird

The way they word their questions is mind-puzzling. Sometimes their questions are so weird and convoluted that it’ll make you want to scream. Shmoop’s wording makes it undoubtedly almost impossible to search out any answer online. 

​Here’s an example of an exam question from Shmoop Pop Culture Literacy:

The hipster -and the reference here is to Norman Maller’s “The White Negro” essay for Dissent in 1957- was explicitly defined by the desire of a white avant-garde to disaffiliate itself from whiteness, with its stain of Eisenhower, the bomb, and the corporation, and achieve the “cool” knowledge and exoticized energy, lust, and violence of black Americans.

What might the author of Why White Kids Love Hip-hop feel about the desire explained here?

A) He would dislike it because it affirms Black stereotypes and white privilege.
B) He would dislike it because he opposes appropriation in any form. 
C) He would like it because it points to communication across cultural lines.
D) He would like it because it opposes corporate values.


​Yup, this is just one of the many odd questions that’ll leave you scratching your head.


1. Do Not Attempt Without a Background in World History​

Seriously. Just. Don’t.

“As any good art history know, you must familiarize yourself withe history of a region before any art analysis begins.”     -Shmoop Art History, Reading 2.7a: Early Byzantine Art

This course might drive you insane!

I’m not joking.

Okay, maybe a little bit but am I really? 

This course is exhausting! Please spare yourself the trouble by taking StraighterLine Survey of World History first. 

For the few brave souls who do decide to tackle Shmoop Introduction to Art History without it, expect to fumble around and feel frustrated with the mammoth amount of historical data you’ll be expected to know. This is an incredibly difficult course. I don’t think most people can get by winging it.

2. Knowledge of World Religion is Optional

A background in world religion would be beneficial but not required. You’ll be looking at a lot of religious art- temple/church architecture, Greek and Roman God sculptures, Islamic visual arts, and plenty of Jesus paintings. You can check out my StraighterLine Introduction to World Religion review if you’d like to take a religion course first.

3. Art is Full of Naked People

Prepare yourself- art is full of naked people! No censorship here, nude paintings and naked sculptures galore.  Try not to hover over the penises on classical statues. There’s a reason why men in ancient statues have tiny penises ‘ya know.  

4. Keep an Open Mind. Give It a Chance.

There are a lot of bizarre, grotesque, and potentially offensive art out there. Once you’ve reached Unit 4 of the course, you’ll be introduced to modern art and all its “weirdness”. 

You’ll be introduced to Marcel Duchamp’s famous urinal, shocking performance art like “Rythm 0” by Marina Abramović’ and “Seedbed” by Vitto Acconci (This one is really disturbing. Note to self: Do not watch the Dailymotion video), and Chris Ofili’s controversial “The Holy Virgin of Mary”, a mixed-media painting of a black Madonna decorated with elephant dung. 

Surprised? Don’t be. 

Art is meant to challenge the status quo.

International art superstar and graffiti master Bansky sums it up like this:

“Art should comfort the disturbed and disturb the comfortable ”    -Banksy

He goes on to say more.

Basically, if it isn’t pissing people off, it probably isn’t really art. From Marcel Duchamp’s signed urinals to Andres Serrano’s ‘Piss Christ’ to Damien Hirst’s formaldehyde shark, art should spike conversation, not only over whether it’s art, but what we as a culture interpret as art. The hope is that, by doing so, we are able to reflect the society that we live in so that we can better understand ourselves. And understanding ourselves is a big part of what art is all about. ” (Source)

You may be asking, “But what if I’m too conservative/religious/easily offended/*insert whatever complaint you have here*?” 

If that’s the case, perhaps you shouldn’t take art history or any art course. 

You don’t need to agree with every art piece but you need to be willing to consider it. 

To fully appreciate art, you’ll need to cultivate an open mind.

A mind that is willing to consider or receive new and different ideas.

A mind that is flexible and can adapt to new experiences and ideas. 

Perhaps in the future, you’ll be more welcoming of new and challenging ideas but until then people who are still resistant to new ideas might be better off not studying art at all.

5. Do Not Skip Over Any Link. Read Them All!

Click and read all the links and additional articles provided in the lessons. 

Try not to skim through- yes, even on the really long articles. It could be on the test. 

6. Use Google Search and Moz To Find Missing Web Links

What do you do when you’ve encountered another broken link while using Shmoop?

If you’re like me, you’ll grumble out of frustration. 

Nobody likes broken links. It’s a bad experience for any website visitor. 

Hope is not all lost. 

There is a way to locate these web links. In fact, most of these broken links aren’t broken at all, they’re just misplaced. They’re still looming somewhere out there in the digital universe. 

As I’ve stated earlier, I use Google search and Moz to locate missing web links.

7. Don't forget to use this exclusive discount coupon to save 10% off

Who doesn’t love discounts? Discounts are amazing!

Save 10% on College Plus subscription when you use this link and the coupon below.


Shmoop will require you to read The Art of Protest: Culture and Activism from the Civil Rights Movement to the Streets of Seattle for this course but I don’t think its necessary. 

You’re better off borrowing the book from your local library or Kindle Owner’s Lending Library (if it’s available there). 

Don’t waste your money on a book that will be rarely used. 

​In fact, you’ll only use the book on Unit 5, Lesson 7. You’ll be asked to peruse Chapter 4 and 7 and read three sections of the book:

  • Chapter 4 is about the importance of murals in Chicano culture.
  • Chapter 7 is about the AIDS crisis. (ACTing Up against AIDS)
  • The three essays: “Silence=Death”, “Art is Not Enough”, and Kiss-ins, Ball Games, and Other Invasions of Personal Space”.

​​You can research and read articles on these topics online. That’s what I did. So no, you do not need the book to pass the course. However, feel free to buy the book if you feel so inclined.


Shmoop Introduction to Art History is the most challenging online course I’ve taken so far.

It is an incredibly difficult course and requires a solid background in world history to keep up with its challenging syllabus. 

You shouldn’t rush this course if you want to pass.

There’s a huge amount of tedious reading involved. Take your time and read through everything. Despite its difficulty, the course provides a lot of substance and depth.

It will introduce you to lesser-known art genres and thought-provoking ideas. It will teach your mind to consider new ideas, challenge pre-existing notions, and get comfortable with the unconventional. 

Make no mistake, art history is tough but don’t let that discourage you.  

Indeed, the skills you learn in art history will serve you a lifetime. Its incredibly satisfying to go to any museum, art space, or posh cocktail party knowing exactly what other people are talking about.

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