Skip to Main Content

Visual Arts: Home

Art Research

Art historical literature examines artists, artistic styles and movements, artistic practices, individual works of art, physical components of artworks and much more, and it also includes visual analysis and criticism. This interdisciplinary field uses theories and methodologies of its own, but often incorporates many other forms of analysis and criticism, such as feminism, gender studies, and political philosophies, to name just a few.

Keep in mind that research on individual artists or their works of art, and even contemporary art is included under the "art history" heading! 

When researching in art history you will encounter a number of types of specialized art historical literature (see below). Bibliographies from any of these types of works can provide additional valuable resources.

  • Archival materials may include correspondence, invoices, postcards, posters, and more (these are not limited to art historical use)
  • Artists books are works of art, and as such are primary resources, along with other original works of art
  • Catalogues raisonnés generally contain an artist's entire œuvre (a collection of all of their works) and include in-depth research and analysis
  • Collection catalogs contain information on some or all of the works in a particular museum or collection; they tend to be broader in scope, but are often comparable to exhibition catalogs in terms of format
  • Collections of essays and interviews by multiple authors are focused around a subject or theme
  • Essays and articles compare to the other types of literature listed here, but are generally shorter in length and are published in periodicals or scholarly journals
  • Exhibition catalogs are publications related to an exhibition of art, whether of a single artist's work, or on a theme or subject; their contents may vary, ranging from a list of works to being comparable to a monograph
  • Festschrifts (from German: "festival or celebration" + "something written") are collections of essays celebrating a particular honored individual, most typically a scholar
  • Monographs are in-depth, thoroughly researched texts on a particular subject

Contact the Library

Art Writing

A Short Guide to Writing About Art "guides students through every aspect of writing about art, (including) how to analyze ... (drawings, paintings, photographs), sculptures and architecture..., (as well as) essential writing assignments (including) formal analysis, comparison, research paper, review of an exhibition, and essay examination, (and also) a chapter on “Virtual Exhibitions: Writing Text Panels and Other Materials” in the 11th edition.

For QUICK GUIDES to writing about art see:

CRITICISM: See The Writing Center at University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill's Art History handout quick guide

VISUAL (FORMAL) ANALYSIS: Smarthistory presents a practical Introduction to art historical analysis and a video guide on How to do a visual (formal) analysis:


Evaluating Sources

Image result for check mark imageEvaluate information sources using CRAAP:

  • Currency: is the information timely for my purposes? when was it published? has the information been revised or updated?
  • Relevance: is the information directly relatable to my research question? does it support my argument?
  • Authority: who wrote or published the information? what are their credentials? 
  • Accuracy: is the information corroborated by other sources?
  • Purpose: is the information unbiased? consider the author/publisher's purpose: is the information intended to educate or inform you, to persuade you, to sell you something, or for another reason?  

When evaluating information on the open web, use CRAAP and also:

  • maintain a healthy sense of skepticism:
    • check your biases (are you finding the information you think you want to find?)
    • ask yourself if the information is a joke or satire
  • when in doubt ask a librarian - Email Us or call 312.553.5784

Citations, Copyright and Fair Use in the Visual Arts

Image result for fair use logoImage result for creative commonsImage result for copyright imagesCopyright "is a form of protection grounded in the U.S. Constitution and granted by law for original works of authorship fixed in a tangible medium of expression. Copyright covers both published and unpublished works." Learn more here

Fair Use allows "the unlicensed use of copyright-protected works in certain circumstances." Learn more here.

Creative Commons licenses make creative works "freely available for legal use, sharing, repurposing, and remixing" by "any member of the public." The CC Search search engine lets you "search for free content in the public domain and under Creative Commons licenses. Learn more about CC licenses here."

More information:

The MLA, Chicago, and Turabian citation styles may be used in writing about art. Check your syllabus or contact your professor to find out which style they prefer.

Quick guides to citing images: 

ARTSTOR's guides to Using Images and Copyright, including Citing Sources

College Art Association Guidelines regarding Fair Use and Copyright:

Fair Use Evaluator

Statement on Fair Use from the Visual Resources Association