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Artists and Artworks: A Step-by-Step Research Guide: At the Museum

step-by-step guide to researching artists and artworks

Researching at the Museum

Information gathered at the museum is critical to your research. Take the time to experience your chosen work of art. Understanding involves a combination of looking, noticing, describing (formal analysis), and contextualizing.

Step 1a: Photograph the artwork from mulitple angles. Better yet, sketch it.

  • This will make writing about the object much easier.
  • This will make locating the object in other resources easier.
  • If you have time, draw or sketch the object. This will force you to notice the work's formal aspects such as color, composition, line, mass, scale, shape, space (negative and positive), and texture, among others.
  • Please respect each museum's photography policy.
  • Do not rely on your memory (also applies to Steps 1b and 1c).

Step 1b: Write down (or photograph) the wall text, including accession number.

  • This is the most important information you can gather at the museum.
  • Words in the text will serve as your search terms (keywords) when searching for articles/books about your object.

Step 1c: Write down (or photograph) other relevant wall text in the gallery.

  • Again, use those keywords to search Art Index, JSTOR, and other databases.
  • This will also help to contextualize your work.

Step 1d: Write down (or journal) your reaction to the piece:

  • How does the piece make you feel?
  • Does something about it stand out to you?
  • Describe the work (formal analysis).

Step 1e: Visit the Museum Library.

  • Museum libraries collect materials specifically related to their objects.
  • Museum librarians know the objects and the research materials related to them as well as anyone. Ask the librarian at the museum for help.
  • Museum libraries generally welcome researchers, but read the guest policies.

Find Museums and Arts Organizations: Directories

Guide Author

Profile Photo
David C. Murray
TCNJ Library,
Room 216