I am also an art historian. Ask Me Anything!

Estelle Pieragnolo on November 20, 2018

I started my adult life with Art History. I am now a front-end developer. And guess what ?! Those two worlds are not as different as we think ;)

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  • What possibilities do you envision for the next interface design trend once flat minimalism has run its course?
  • What are some conceptual weak points or lacunae in UI/UX as commonly practiced which art history and theory have developed more fully -- what could be borrowed?

Well, those questions are very interesting ! Unfortunately, I'm not a web designer and my knowledge in design is limited.

Nonetheless, I took some time to think about the second question (the first one is beyond my knowledge).

UX is very specific to our devices and it is difficult to find something in art history that could help to improve UX (maybe it can be interesting to ask to a craftsman ?).
What I have seen is that the UI has already borrowed lots of things to art history, starting with colors and the way to highlight important element. But it has to adapt to its constraints (screens size, touch...).

The difficulty to think art history for UI is the fact that UI must to be thought with UX. But art is thought for being admired (except for contemporary art, which is something I didn't studied). It can gives you a different way to think a subject. Like ancient greek art whose painters of vases were trying to put scenes into restricted shapes (circles shapes when they were painting inside a cup).
(Sorry if my english is not good - it's difficult for me to write about a complexe subject in english - I hope my answer is understandable)


My thought was that there's still a history of UI design -- from one-line-at-a-time teletype feeds to curses-based interfaces allowing text to be placed and altered anywhere on a screen, then the advent of the GUI enabling interactive elements which have over time become antialiased, rounded, skeuomorphic, flattened, and so on. There could be entire books written about the evolution of typefaces in the screen era alone (there probably have been, but I don't know if my interest in that specific area would hold out that long). Art historians have had to develop vocabularies and theories to talk about the evolution of styles and movements and techniques; there's obviously some conceptual overlap, and given that art history has been around longer I was curious to see if anyone's gotten into exploring it :)

Yes, there is some conceptual overlap... but as far as I know it, there is no studies in art history about it. Maybe in the future, art history will exploring it, but UI design is young and with the youngest themes or disciplines lots of art historians are reluctant to study it like actual art. Maybe in 50, 100 years there will be lots of studies in art history about UI design...


I'm not that great at art history so I bought Gombrich's "The Story of Art" which currently sits on my desk unopened.

I've heard great things, but I'm not an art history student, what's your opinion :) ?

Going back to development, I liked what you said about colors and shapes. It's going to help you a lot on the frontend (maybe you could even extend your skills to design in the future as well).

I don't know if it's something that interests you BUT one person popped in my mind: Jonathan Harris: an artists who uses programming and frontend development as a tool. His wikipedia page has more detail about him


Well, Gombrich is a reference when you study art history but, honestly, I never read it... This book is a little bit outdated now (Grombrich wrote it in 1950). And it is not very simple to read. I understand why it sits unopened on your desk ;)
If you are interested in a particular period / artistic current / artist you can buy a book which deals with this subject and for having a global view and a larger context buy a simplest book than Gombrich about art history in general. It has to be a pleasure and Gombrich's book can be discouraging.
If you like a subject in particular I can give you some books titles, just tell me =)

I like when my job as front-end dev is close to web design but I dont see myself in a design career (even if I started coding because I wanted to be a web designer !)

I didn't know Jonathan Harris, thanks for sharing it. His work seems very interesting, I will look more deeply what he's doing =)


a larger context buy a simplest book than Gombrich about art history in general. It has to be a pleasure and Gombrich's book can be discouraging.
If you like a subject in particular I can give you some books titles, just tell me =)

I wanted an introduction, I asked around and an academic friend of mine suggested that book :D


I work on (amongst other things) a site providing ~100,000 images of artwork from a group of galleries. We use a lot of focus groups and ideas from other institutions to shape the user experience.

What kind of pain points do you find when researching art online and what feature would you most like to see in gallery's website?


This is very interesting what you are doing!!!

One thing comes to my mind : in most of the cases (and I think it is valid for any type of searching tools), it's thought for people who know what they are looking for. But when you do researches in art history about a particular subject, you don't always know what you are looking for and sometimes you only know what you are not looking for. But tools, in most cases doesn't allow to search "without a criterion".

For instance, I have a website in mind (but it doesn't concern art at all) it's LinkedIn. When you search a job, it suppose that you know where you want to work. In my case, I'm looking for a job in UK but I don't know where except, I just don't want to work in London. I cannot select "UK - but no London" in the search bar...

I noticed this pain point when I was writing a thesis in art history and academic people often visit galleries website without knowing exactly what they are looking for :)


Haha, good question !!! (and a tough one!)

I'll say the Well of Moses in Dijon(France).
It's a sculpture made by a dutch artist at the end of the 14th century, for the Duke of Burgundy (were you can find very good wines =) ).

What I love here, it's the angels. They all have different facial expressions to explain pain and sadness (this sculpture was made for the necropolis of the Duke).
That quite rare to observe such a variety of expression in sculpture at the end of the 14th century. The artist played with the hand of the angels, their eyes and mouth. It's very touching.
And the sculpture is so delicate, the painting that remains has such beautiful colors (the blue in particular).

I have to admit there is other pieces of art I love equally, not for the same reasons, but it is very difficult to choose :/

And do you have a favourite piece of art too ?


That's a great answer, thank you!

I'll be honest, I struggle with physical art. I completely understand and appreciate it's importance, and I can see the beauty in art. And as a musician, I know how truly important art has been for the evolution of society, but I just can't explain what art I like and don't aha.

The closest I can do, and it's the piece of art that always comes to mind:

Convergence by Jackson Pollock

Convergence by Jackson Pollock

I just... Really like it. The best I can explain it is: as someone who struggles with depression and anxiety on a daily basis, looking at this gives me a sense of familiarity and comfort. I can't explain it, I imagine you could a lot better though!

Haha, I'm not very good for explaining abstract art... it's difficult because it appeals to feelings and emotions, more than physical art.

To be honest, I didn't like art before high school, so I totally understand why you are not fond of physical art =)

Art, for me, it's often like classical music. You like it, but you cannot tell why. This is just about all the things you feel when you listen it. The beauty of Pollock's art, is that you have not to understand anything to enjoy it. Unlike physical art (which I started to like when I started to studied it in high school), because it's based on the erudition of its day.


Do you see some specific skills that you have learned which are useful in both of your specializations?


When you study art history you educate your eyes to colors, shapes, an organization of the elements (how you highlight an element with shadow/light, its position in the canvas...). This education is very useful when I have to think about design especially when you are not a web designer.

In art history, when you do researches, you have to be very strict. Before my studies, I wasn't. And when I started to learn web development, as you can imagine, it was absolutely necessary and it help me a lot!

Another skill to which I think is for a more specific context. My first internship as a front-end developer was for a startup that create websites for art galeries. So, when I arrived, I knew very well (and better than my two colleagues) the clients, what they needed, what kind of visitors were coming in the website and what they were looking for.

Of course, all these skills can be learned without art history, but in my professional career, I was able to switch to web development (and it wasn't easy, especially because I stopped learning and practicing mathematics after my second year in high school) because I had already acquired those skills through art history =)


Great & complex answer, thanks a lot! Hope you enjoy your career :)

I enjoy it a lot, so much things to learn in IT, so exciting every days !!!

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