Art Historian's Approach - Art by Eras or Cultures
When thinking about art history through the ages, Art Historians consider the time period or "era" when the art was made. Since history is sequential, one considers what came before and after to extract meaning from an artwork. Some periods are defined by who was ruling, a significant event or a migration. These facts add resonance to the purpose, intent, and message of the art.
Another approach Art Historians employ is considering the "cultural context". Did it come from South America, for example? What types of foods, language, and rituals unified the people who made it? How did they use the artwork to demonstrate their cultural bonds?