Skip to Main Content

Artists and Artworks: A Step-by-Step Research Guide: Home

step-by-step guide to researching artists and artworks

Researching and writing about artists and artworks in 7 steps

Step 1: At the Museum

  • Your artwork is your primary source. In-person viewing, even touching the work if allowed, will give you an intimate understanding of its formal qualities (e.g., color, line, mass, use of positive and negative space). We experience artworks and re-productions (e.g., digital images in ARTstor) differently. That is, no way of understanding a work can substitute for experiencing it with your own senses.
  • Information gathered at the museum will make the rest of your research easier.

Step 2: Reference Shelf

  • Consult scholarly encyclopedias and other reference works to obtain background information about your artist, period or movement; connect to relevant secondary sources (that you can cite); and/or define terms (e.g., chiaroscuro).
  • Museum websites are also excellent sources of background information.

Step 3: Find Books

  • Use the search box ("Library Search") on the Gitenstein Library homepage to find books on your topic.
  • Library Search connects researchers with the library's physical holdings, e-books, online articles, and open access resources.

Step 4: Find Articles

  • Databases such as Art Abstracts provide access to scholarly journal articles.
  • Search the databases by keywords, artist, movement, period, style, and other search terms. Learn how to use the subject headings (if available) for targeted, relevant search results.

Step 5: Find Related Images

  • Looking at and writing about related objects by your artist, of the same style/period, or containing similar subject matter can strengthen your argument.

Step 6: Writing Help

  • You might be required to incorporate formal analysis into your writing. Ask if in doubt.
  • Writing about art requires a solid thesis statement in which you put forward a cogent argument based on evidence and often in "conversation" with what art historians have already written about your object, artist, movement, or style/period.

Step 7: Cite Your Sources

  • Cite all quotes and paraphrased references used in the body of the paper. Plagiarism is a grave mistake in academic writing.

Exhibition Catalogs

Click here to see a list of exhibition catalogs from the TCNJ Art Gallery that date from 2001.

Find hundreds of digitized catalogs from exhibitions that have taken place at The Met since the 1870s.


This libguide is adapted from an original authored by Jill Luedke, Art Librarian, Temple University Libraries. I modified it with Jill's permission, adding and deleting sources and text for use by TCNJ faculty and students.

Guide Author

Profile Photo
David C. Murray
TCNJ Library,
Room 216