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Art Resource Guide: Conducting Research


Camille Corot_A Woman Reading_1869Marie Denise Villers,Charlotte du Val d'Ognes, Oil on canvas, 1801Thomas Eakins, The Writing Master, Oil on canvas, 1882Ilia Efimovich Repin, Vsevolod Mikhailovich Garshin​, Oil on canvas, 1884


Camille CorotA Woman Reading, Oil on canvas, 1869 and 1870. Metropolitan Museum of Art.Marie Denise Villers,Charlotte du Val d'Ognes, Oil on canvas, 1801. Metropolitan Museum of Art.; Thomas Eakins, The Writing Master, Oil on canvas, 1882. Metropolitan Museum of Art.; Ilia Efimovich Repin, Vsevolod Mikhailovich Garshin​, Oil on canvas, 1884. Metropolitan Museum of Art. 

Conducting Research

Masterpieces of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2006; The Art Bulletin,March-June 2010; Detail from Vincent van Gogh's 'The Sower', 1888 with van Gogh's letter to his brother Theo, Arles, c. 21 November 1888; Andrei Pop, How To Do Things With Pictures: A Guide to Writing in Art History, Harvard College, 2008.

Primary and Secondary Resources

  • Primary sources provide first-hand testimony or direct evidence concerning a topic under investigation. They are created by witnesses or recorders who experienced the events or conditions being documented. Often these sources are created at the time when the events or conditions are occurring, but primary sources can also include autobiographies, memoirs, and oral histories recorded later. Primary sources are characterized by their content, regardless of whether they are available in original format, in microfilm/microfiche, in digital format, or in published format. Examples of primary resources include artifacts, diaries,maps, manuscripts, music, oral history, and visual material.

The term “visual material” refers to any primary source in which images, instead of or in conjunction with words and/or sounds, are used to convey meaning. Some common and useful types of visual materials are as follows:


  • Original art, including but not limited to paintings, drawings, sculpture, architectural drawings and plans, and monoprints.
  • Prints, which are works produced in multiple but limited numbers such as woodcuts, engravings, etchings, and lithographs
  • Graphic arts, including materials such as posters, trade cards, and computer generated graphics
  • Photographs
  • Film and video

Any of these materials can provide valuable information to a researcher. Factual information can often be extracted from visual materials; however, the best information imparted by these materials is often of a subjective nature, providing insight into how people see themselves and the world in which they exist.

  • Secondary sources interpret and analyze primary sources. Because they are often written significantly after events by parties not directly involved but who have special expertise, they may provide historical context or critical perspectives. Secondary sources routinely include pictures, quotes or graphics of primary sources and can include scholarly works, textbooks, newspaper, journal articles and biographies.  
  • Tertiary sources or reference sources summarize and synthesize information about a topic from other sources. Tertiary sources can be a useful tool for locating primary and secondary sources. Examples of tertiary sources include encyclopedias and dictionaries, chronologies, almanacs and bibliographies.

Evaluating Websites

Evaluating Websites: Remember to always evaluate a website before using it for research purposes. You can always ask a librarian or your professor for an opinion about a specific website. Some criteria for evaluating websites include:

  • Accuracy
  • Authority
  • Currency
  • Objectivity
  • Purpose