Art history: Beginning research
As with any specialized discipline, art history bears its own literature, its own writing and publishing conventions, its own methodologies, and its own theoretical trends. This guide is meant to serve as an introduction for students who are new to the field. Standard sources for researching works of art in the Cantor Arts Center and Anderson Collection begin this guide. What follows includes lists of survey texts, basic texts treating specific topics within art history (Modern art, Asian art, etc.), and writing and style guides. It also includes an introduction to the various literature types: exhibition catalogs, catalogues raisonné, collection catalogs, monographs, artists' books and ephemera. The last section of this guide provides tips for researching a work of art and concludes with a list of art databases.
Table of Contents
Cantor and Anderson collections
In doing research for objects in the Cantor Arts Center, begin with a search in the Cantor Collections Database . Many object records include bibliographical references which will lead to more information about your object.
- For the Anderson Collection, these two collection catalogs will help you get started:
For further search tips, consult Researching a Work of Art
N = Visual arts
NA = Architecture
NB = Sculpture
NC = Drawing/Design
ND = Painting
NE = Print media
NX = Arts in general
TR = Photography
TS = Manufactures/Design
TT = Handicrafts
The Stanford University Libraries--like most libraries in the U.S. and even globally--use Library of Congress Subject Headings as their means of categorizing books according to subject in a standardized way (referred to as "controlled vocabulary"). Catalogers assign these headings using prescribed rules for format, but their actual choices of headings are based on their personal understanding of a book's subject. What this means is that searching on a single subject heading will almost never retrieve all of the books a library owns on that subject. Therefore it's often good to experiment and see what other related headings exist and to look at the headings that have been assigned to a book you want to find more like. The Library of Congress provides a discussion of subject headings here.
Tips for searching SearchWorks using subject headings:
If you are reviewing a record in SearchWorks and find one of its subject headings useful, simply use it as a hyperlink. But keep in mind: catalogers often augment subject headings by adding subheadings that make them more specific--e.g., a geographical term, a time period, a format. Where you click on a subject heading's link will determine how much of the compound term is included in your new search.
If you don't know the specific subject you're looking for but have a general idea of what it might be, start by restricting your search to the Subject field. Then pick some terms that you think might appear in the subject heading of an item you'd be interested in.
Try it: If you're looking for books about the depiction of women in Medieval art, simply try typing the keywords "women," "Medieval," and "art" into the Subject search box. Here is the result. Open a few records and look at the subject headings. Notice that often one keyword belongs to one heading, while a second keyword belongs to another. Subject headings tend to work well in combination, since books' topics can be quite complex.
The literature of art history is divisible into several categories: monographs, collections of essays or interviews, catalogs of various sorts, individual articles and essays, and artists' books and ephemera. An understanding of each category is elemental to designing a comprehensive and efficient research strategy.
In addition to individual annotations, the following provides a summary of three main introductory surveys. The Gardner surveys are more textbook-like than Janson. The 14th edition of the Gardner Global History book provides a lot of information in a readily accessible form. Both Gardner and Janson include supplemental information on material and technique, include timelines and lengthy bibliographies. Janson includes snippets of primary source texts and a methodology feature called The Art Historian’s Lens. One might characterize Janson as the more “scholarly” and Gardner as more yeoman-like. Stokstad is geared for the undergraduate student without any previous knowledge of art history.
Writing about art
Chicago and MLA style guides
Many instructors require 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 or MLA 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.
4. Purdue University's guide, Purdue OWL: MLA Style, provides examples for both the bibiography and footnote form, as well as a more general introduction to MLA style.
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 art work 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.