Research a Work of Art: A step-by-step process
- Collect as much information as you can about the work, such as title, artist, date or approximate date, medium, where it came from, etc. Then, think about what else you need to know, and why to help to focus your research.
- If you know where a work of art is located, search the website of that institution for information. (For example, if the work of art is here in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Museum’s website is the source for the most up-to-date information on the object.)
- Often, the best way to find out more about a work of art is to research the artist. Click here to find a list of online biographical resources available through the Museum libraries’ catalog (note that some may require you to log in, and some may not be accessible from outside the Museum). When you are in the library, a reference librarian can also point you towards some of the many biographical print resources that might be useful.
- Search full-text article databases such as JSTOR or Google Scholar to see if you can find a mention of the object in a scholarly article. Here is a list of some full-text databases that Watson Library subscribes to; again, some may require you to log in, and some may not be accessible from outside the Museum. You may need to search in a variety of ways to find what you’re looking for; a reference librarian can help you with this.
- Search the library catalog for the artist as a subject (last name first); this will help you find books about your artist that may contain information on the object. The books and exhibition catalogs you find may include bibliographies that can point you to other resources that you might not have known about; you can then search for those resources in the library catalog, and keep going until you find what you need.
- If the artist is not known, try to identify as many characteristics of the object as you can: the culture or place of origin, time period, style, material, form (painting, sculpture, etc.); then search in resources such as the Timeline of Art History, Oxford Art Online, JSTOR, Watsonline, and other art-specific periodical indexes as appropriate.
- Once you have begun this process, a reference librarian can give you further suggestions for a research strategy that is more tailored to your specific research question. This is usually easier in person, but you can also contact us by email.