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Art Resource Guide: Getting Started

Getting Started

Getting Started

  • The first step is spend time looking at the work you are researching. Take notes on the work's appearance. Jot down thoughts, ideas, and sentiments.   
  • If you are viewing the work in a museum or gallery setting, look at the label beside the work on the wall or in the exhibit case. Look at the museum or gallery’s website for more information on the object. Every museum includes information on its own collection of objects as well as other related objects.
  • Find the context. Compile background information on the artist and or work of art by consulting encyclopedias, reference sources and museum websites. This will help you understand the historical, social, and economic, context in which the art was created.
  • Check out the bibliographies from the reference resources you use to identify more books, articles and other resources that are available for the work you are researching.

Tips for Object Research

  • Finding information on art objects takes time. Give yourself several days to locate enough relevant information.
  • Accept that you may not find information about your specific object. Discussing your object as it relates to similar objects of the same style, period, location, or by the same artist is legitimate.
  • Find sources by searching by movement, style/period, location, medium/technique, creator and title.
  • ALWAYS collect more sources than the minimum requirement.
  • Connect the dots. Think Critically. Be flexible.


One of the best ways to find primary sources is via secondary sources (books and articles).  Primary sources, or excerpts from primary sources, may be reprinted and/or cited in secondary sources such as books and journal articles.  This is an excellent way to determine which primary sources will be most relevant for the research topic you are studying.

Encyclopedias and other reference works (tertiary sources) are especially helpful for finding primary source documents in art history. So even as you are just starting your research, pay close attention to any primary source material that is being cited. 

Another way to find possible primary sources is via Sourcebooks. Hint: use the keyword "sources" or "sourcebook"  or use “diaries” or “letters” and  for example  Gauguin when using OneSearch.

Best Bets for Beginning Your Research

Looking at Paintings - Getty Museum

Writing About Art

For those new to art history (and for general inspiration for everyone) discipline-specific guides to art research and writing about art can be very useful. Here are a few, and places to find more:

  • Marjorie Munsterberg has a wonderful guide online, Writing About Art, which comes highly recommended by academic art history departments, including Brooklyn College’s.  Geared toward undergraduate art history students, this work explains in very clear detail exactly how to research and write an art history term paper.
  • A classic text on writing about art, first published in the early 1980s with many later editions and still an excellent guide, is Sylvan Barnet's A Short Guide to Writing About ArtThis work is one of the classics of the field.

  • Andrei Pop's How To Do Things With Pictures: A Guide to Writing in Art History is downloadable guide created as part of the Harvard College Writing Project.

  • NYU Department of Art History - Tools for Formal Analysis is another great source.


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Miriam Deutch
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Example Object: Manet's The Monet Family in Their Garden at Argenteuil at the Metropolitan Museum of Art

The museum website where the object is housed can be a great first stop for information on your object. The Metropolitan Museum's website offers basic label information as well as more in depth information on its collections. Click on the image below to view the Metropolitan Museum's web page on this painting.

Metropolitan Museum Website: The Monet Family in Their Garden at Argenteuil

Cite Your Work

Cite Your Work

How to Do Things with Pictures

How to do things with pictures: A Guide to Writing in Art History