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How to Research an Art Object

This guide focuses on finding relevant documents when researching an art object. In addition to searching for information about the art work or artist directly, search for documents that cover some of the following concepts, which can be helpful when you cannot find information on the artwork itself:  

  • Related to the artist and their other works,
  • Other works from the same art-historical period or style,
  • Technical processes and materials,
  • Subject matter and themes,
  • Social or historical context, etc.

1.Find background information & overview

Many of the library's art encyclopedias such as Oxford Art Online will often provide basic information on artists, art periods, techniques, etc. These are excellent sources for starting your research and will also provide bibliographies to lead you to other sources and further reading.

Check specialized encyclopedias for: visual analysis, meaning of subjects, symbols, themes, and more.

For contemporary and emerging artists, consider checking their web sites. Gallery and museum websites may also provide information about artists not covered in an encyclopedia.  

Here are a few recommendations to get you started:

2. Find Books & Exhibition Catalogues

Use the Sofia Discovery tool to identify books and/or exhibition catalogues relevant to the art object you are researching.

If you don't find books covering your object try using Google Books which searches the full-text of many books. Check the library catalogue to find out if the book is available at Concordia Library.

You can also check other Montreal libraries for relevant book titles. You can use your student ID card to borrow books at other Montreal university libraries.

Types of Books for Researching Works of Art/Artists:

Monograph: Monographs are detailed books on a single specialized subject based upon extensive research. Usually, there is 1 single author (a specialist in a particular field), and the language and writing style is scholarly rather than written for general readership. Monographs also include substantial bibliographies, which are excellent for further reading and resources.

Example: Huneault, Kristina. I'm not myself at all : women, art, and subjectivity in Canada. Montreal: McGill-Queen's University Press, 2018.

Edited Volume: These types of books are dedicated to specific themes, subjects, or even artists. There is more than 1 contributor/author who will contribute their expertise in an article/essay relating to the book's theme or subject.

Example: Horne, Victoria and Lara Perry, ed. Feminism and art history now : radical critiques of theory and practice. New York: I.B. Tauris, 2017. 

Exhibition Catalogue: Publications produced to accompany an exhibition. Some contain critical texts and/or essays, while others may be simply a list of works on display. Exhibition catalogues can be fruitful sources of extensive information about specific artworks. They are also useful to gain an understanding of an artist's critical rececption at a particular point in their career.

Example: Augaitis, Daine and Kathleen Ritter, ed. Rebecca Belmore : rising to the occasion. Vancouver: Vancouver Art Gallery, 2008. Exhibition catalogue.

Catalogue Raisonné: A scholarly compilation of an artist’s body of work, these types of books are comprehensive, annotated listings of all the known artworks by an artist in a particular medium, or all media. They usually contain the date, media, dimension, and provenance (sales & ownership history) of artworks, as well as publication history. 

Example: Dackerman, Susan and Jennifer L. Roberts, ed. Jasper Johns : catalogué raisonne of monotypes. New York: Matthew Marks Gallery, 2017. 

3. Find Articles using Databases

Consider using the following art databases to identify recent journal and magazine articles relevant to the art work you are researching.

Note: Pay close attention to your search results, as there are often other types of documents in these databases such as book reviews, art reproductions, and short exhibition reviews which are less fruitful for your research. 

  • Art Full-text and Art Index Retrospective covers about 500 journals covering all art periods and media. Generally, a good starting point for art-related research for journal articles.
  • Artbibliographies Modern covers 19th century to contemporary art; doesn’t cover architecture. Especially useful for contemporary art and often more extensive coverage of Canadian art.
  • BHA: Bibliography of the History of Art and International Bibliography of Art covers all art periods and media and includes publications from 1975 to 2007. Useful for pre-21st century art-related topics.
  • JSTOR covers approximately 250 art history and architecture journals as well as numerous scholarly journals from other disciplines. Note: the last 3-5 years of some publications are not available.

Also check:

  • Canadian & Quebec databases
  • Newspaper Databases
  • Theses & Dissertations

4. Canadian/Quebec databases: Finding journal articles

Consider using these databases when doing research on a Canadian or Quebec artist or exhibition.

CBCA Complete
Covers a wide range of Canadian journals from various disciplines including Canadian art magazines many of which are available full-text

Similar in ocverage to CBCA with some overlap; however, there are some unique titles.

This interdisciplinary database provides the full-text of a number of Quebec art and cultural journals. Useful when researching artists or exhibitions in Quebec.

Covers a wide range of Quebec journals including some art journals.

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