Since the Museum’s opening we have seen growing number of students diligently conducting research in our library. Similarly, we have community members and email questions asking how to locate information about a work of art. So this month, typically a heavy research time for students, we offer tips on researching works of art.
First, collect basic information about the work of art. It is unusual to find entire books or even entire articles devoted to one work of art, so be prepared to investigate all aspects of the work: artist, subject, culture, time period, style, movement, and so on. Get all the information you can about the work of art. This includes title, artist, date, medium, the collection it is part of, and the museum’s accession number, if available. The accession number is especially critical if you do not know the artist of the work. Some museums make available a searchable database of their objects. Crystal Bridges recently made many of our works available through our website. If you first found the work of art in a book or web site, be sure to get all the information about that resource as well (the title and URL of a website; and title, author, publisher, and date of publication for a book) so you can cite the source.
Second, research basic encyclopedias for background information about the artist, time period, style, or movement. When working in the Museum Library, a reference librarian can assist you with dictionaries, encyclopedias, and other resources in print. A few of the print resources available at Crystal Bridges Library include: Art books: a basic bibliography of monographs on artists Encyclopedia of American Art Benezit Dictionary of Artists Encyclopedia of American Art Before 1914 Who was Who in American Art, 1564-1975: 400 Years of Artists in America. For those of you hoping to locate an artists’ signature, there is Peter Falk’s Dictionary of signatures & monograms of American artists : from the colonial period to the mid 20th century. Oxford Art Online is a natural choice for an online encyclopedia of art and artists but is a licensed, subscription database. You may access it for free while you are in the Museum Library.
Third, do a thorough bibliographic search in the Crystal Bridges’ Library catalog for the artist, style, period, or movement you are researching by selecting “subject” from the drop-down menu to the left of the search box (last-name-first for artist). NOTE: Our Library catalogue is online so you can conduct this phase of your research from home. If searching a particular artist, check your retrievals for a catalogue raisonné of the artist (a catalogue raisonné is a book that attempts to comprehensively document the works of one artist). You can also review exhibition catalogs and auction catalogs.
A great place to continue your research is WorldCat OCLC FirstSearch, a licensed online subscription database accessible from Museum Library computers. OCLC FirstSearch provides seamless electronic access to many databases covering a wide range of topics and formats. WorldCat.org lets you search the collections of libraries in your community and thousands more around the world to look for the book or item you need.
Fourth, search electronic databases for periodical and journal articles about the artist, time period, style, or movement. JSTOR is one of the best resources for art publications and includes full-text content of more than 1,300 academic journals, as well as thousands of primary sources in the arts, humanities, and other disciplines. It is a licensed subscription database accessible from Museum Library computers.
We look forward to seeing you in the Museum Library for this initial phase of your research. Next week’s blog addresses how to research online.