Art History

When writing about Art

Look at the Art:

Learn more about it:

  • Look at introductory resources such as museum or gallery websites or art encyclopedias to find biographical information about the artist and/or contextual information about your object

Collect Sources through Research:

  • Find Books: search the library's website for your artist's name, art movements, and other related concepts to your object
  • Find Articles: Search journal databases for your artists' name, movement, period, style, medium and other context keywords for articles related to your object
  • Find Images: Include images of your object in your paper or presentation. Look at other works by your artist, objects of the same style/period, or pieces containing similar subject matter to strengthen your argument by comparing related objects

Write and Cite:

  • Include a formal analysis describing the physical properties and visual experience of your object
  • Provide contextual analysis of your object by examining its subject matter, function, and cultural / historical significance
  • Cite all quotes, paraphrased references and images used in your paper or presentation; Ask your instructor about what style to use


What is Art Historical Analysis?

Art historical analysis is an investigation art historians do to understand and give meaning to works of art. They do this by describing formal properties, examining content or subject matter and placing works of art in their historical context.

What is a Visual Analysis?

A visual or formal analysis examines an artwork's elements that we can see such as scale, composition, space, form, line, color, light, tone, texture, and pattern. The purpose of a visual analysis is to recognize and understand the choices made by the artist in creating the artwork.

Consider the Context

Researching and writing about artists and art objects requires contextualizing within the history of art. This is done by making connections to influences or movements and researching beyond your specific artist or object. Asking and answering the questions "Who? What? When? Where? Why?" can serve as a great starting point for this kind of in-depth research.

Consider the Context

Infographic excerpted from Curtis Newbold

TIP! Sources as Seeds

Scholarly publications usually end with a list of references, also known as a bibliography or a works cited page. These lists can be powerful tools for locating more sources on a topic. By finding one relevant journal article or book and reviewing its cited sources, you can locate new titles to search for that you might not otherwise find through a Library or internet search.

Examining the references in scholarly publications can also help you understand how different researchers have approached a topic and have related their work to that of others. This perspective can help you relate your ideas to those of others and make compelling arguments.

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