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Introduction to the Visual Arts

ARTHIST 1 - Fall 2013 - Instructor: Nemerov, A.
Last Updated: 2-Mar-2015

This guide is designed to help students research their course papers for Art History 1, Introduction to the Visual Arts: The History of Western Art from the Renaissance to the Present. Specifically, the guide is focused on researching an individual work of art. The Research Skills section to the left provides a good introduction to basic research procedures. Under the Table of Contents section you will find specific research tips for this class.

Subject Librarians

Senior Librarian, Art & Architecture Library
(650) 725-1038, (650) 561-2392
Reference Librarian/VRC Cataloger
(650) 725-9274
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Researching a work of art

While you might assume that most works of art have been extensively researched and published, in fact the opposite is true. Famous works, such as Edward Hopper's Nighthawks (1942; Art Institute of Chicago), Picasso's Guernica (1937; Museo Reina Sofia), or Ansel Adams's "Moonrise, Hernandez, New Mexico" (1941) are well documented in the literature of art history. But lesser known works are often not published at all, thus requiring you to engage in original research--not a simple task. The following tips will help you find pull all of the above-mentioned literature types together in order to research a work of art.

  • Generally speaking, books are not written on works of art, but on artists. In SearchWorks, search on your artist's name, not the work of art. Within the book, look for references on works similar to the one you are writing on, from the same time period, with similar subject matter, and so on. Using the information you've found on these related works, begin writing your own narrative about the work you are focusing on. If your artist is famous and you retrieve too many results, you may also want to limit your search results to titles in English using the Language facet in the left column in the SearchWorks display.
  • When looking for books in SearchWorks, pay special attention if the book is an exhibition catalog, which is the publication that accompanies a museum or art gallery exhibition of the artist's work. You especially want to look for large museum exhibition catalogs which cover an artist's entire career (aka, a "retrospective" exhibition catalog), or which focus on the specific period your artwork is from. Look in the SearchWorks record for specific information on the book. "Retrospective" is sometimes used in the subtitle of the catalog, which may be 200+ or 300+ pages.
  • If there are no books on your artist, look for books on the artistic school your artist is associated with, or your artist's time period. To discover this information, go to Oxford Art Online, an excellent art encyclopedia. Search on your artist's name, and based on the contextual information you find on your artist, go back to SearchWorks and try another round of searches.
  • Generally speaking, articles or essays are more likely to be written about specific works, or specific periods. Use the "Art databases" listing below to search for journal articles and essays on your artist. You might want to search on your artist's name and a keyword from the title of the work. If that yields no results, just search on the artist's name. As in SearchWorks, you can limit your search results to writings in English.
  • If you find yourself discovering too much in your searches (hundreds and hundreds of results), focus your search by adding another search keyword. If you are finding too few (none???), you may have entered too many search terms. Also, try variations on your search terms -- tulips, flowers, blooms, etc.
  • If you continue to have difficulty with your research, please come see one of the Art librarians shown at the right. Just walk into the Art & Architecture Library (preferably Monday-Friday, 9-5) and ask for assistance.

Art databases

Chicago manual of style

For Art 1 you will use the Chicago Manual of Style for your citations, specifically the bibliography style, commonly used in the humanities. The clearest explanation of the Chicago bibliography style is Kate Turabian's A Manual for Writers of Research Papers, Theses, and Dissertations.

1. Finding citation style references in SearchWorks: Once you have retrieved a search result and are examining individual records in SearchWorks (click on the title within a results listing to get to that record), note that there is a "Cite this" link above the title. Click on the link to see the proper Chicago bibliography style for that title. Similarly, if you use the "Select" box to save records, when you click on the "Selected Items" link to see the titles you've marked, a "Cite items" link appears above your saved items and shows the proper citation style for the works you've saved.

2. Finding citation style references in databases: Both the EBSCO Host (Art Full Text, Art Retrospective, AnthropologyPlus) and ProQuest (Artbibliographies Modern, International Bibliography of Art) interfaces have similar "Cite" links.

3. Additional examples of how to cite art literature using Chicago:  The Duke University Art Library has created a guide, Style Examples in Every Format for Art History on how to cite various types of art literature using the Chicago style, giving the citations in both bibliography and footnote form. Purdue University's guide, Purdue OWL: Chicago Manual of Style, also provides examples for both the bibiography and footnote form, as well as a more general introduction to Chicago bibliography style.