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Art History and Fine Arts

http://fitnyc.libguides.com/art

Where to begin?

You have been asked to research a work of art.  Where to begin?

Do you have to visit a museum and/or select an art work to analyze - looking at
its iconography*, elements of design & composition, cultural, social, and/or historical context?  

     The Harvesters by Pieter Bruegel the Elder, 1565

          The Harvesters by Pieter Bruegel the Elder, 1565 

*iconography: study of the subject-matter rather than the form of a work of art‚Äč 

Researching an art work

Museum website as resource: 

  • Search museum's website for individual art work.     
  • Information varies by website & art work, but may be extensive, including: gallery label, catalogue entry, provenance (ownership history), exhibition history, & references. Example: The Harvesters, Pieter Bruegel the Elder, on the Met's website.  
  • Look for references to specific resources, such as exhibit catalogs (under 'Exhibition History', in our example) and books and/or journal articles (under 'References'). To determine if the FIT Library owns these resources, check StyleCat, for books and exhibit catalogs, and the Journal Finder, for journal, magazine and newspaper articles. 

Library research:

  • Research the artist (from our example, Pieter Bruegel), the art work (The Harvesters), the style or movement, the place and/or time period and/or material (Early Netherlandish painting), the genre (landscape art), the museum or collection owning the work (Metropolitan Museum of Art).
  • Use OneSearch to find books in these research areas.  Consult Guide's section Books, e-books, and DVDs for suggestions.
  • To find articles, start with JSTOR or art databases such as Art Full Text Art Index Retrospective. 
    *Tip: JSTOR is a full-text database of academic journals, each from its first issue published (some back to the 19th century) to near current. Included are many museum bulletins and publications which feature individual art works, with announcements of their acquisition, feature articles, etc. For example, see this article on The Harvesters from The Metropolitan Museum of Art Bulletin, May 1921, shortly after it was acquired by the Museum. 
  • For more suggestions, see the Articles and essays section.
  • You may also want to go to a museum library to do research.  See the box 'Using Museum Libraries'.

Museum Research

At the Museum

  • Select an art work
    • Be sure it meets the requirements of your assignment in terms of period of art, date range, artists, or any other restrictions.
    • Tip: Select more than one art work to start in case you don't easily find enough research material on, or have other issues with, your first choice later.
  • Copy all information on the art work's label
    • Include artist's name, title of art work, date, medium, accession number, purchase fund & date, and any other useful text.
    • Be sure to record correctly spelled & complete names & titles.
    • Caution: Works on display may not be owned by the museum - some are on loan for special exhibits.  In this case, note the name of lending museum/collection. The owning museum/collection's website often provides additional useful information.
  • Study the art work carefully
    • Take notes on what you see. Taking notes is permitted in almost all museums. These help you remember the work, understand your research & comments made by others, and may allow you to draw your own conclusions.
  • Get an image
    • Securing an image in the museum may help you remember the work without confusing it with similar works by the same or other artists or works with similar titles. It can also help you identify it when others refer to it. You can look for a better image to include in your report, if necessary, during the research phase of the project.
    • Some museums let you take a photo without a flash; just ask a guard first.
    • Sometimes you can find a postcard of the work in the museum's gift shop.
    • For more help finding a high resolution, downloadable image of the work, see Image Research section.

Tip:
If you pick an art work without seeing it first - and you must see it in person - be sure it is on display in the museum.  Many museums show only a portion of the art works they own at any time.  Other pieces may be in storage or on loan to other museums for exhibitions. Museum websites often indicate which owned works of art are currently on display.  

The FIT Library collects extensively on art and artists.  Our Library collections are browsable and many books can be borrowed by FIT students and faculty.  Our databases provide access to articles and images remotely 24/7.  And most importantly, the Reference Librarians are here to help you with your assignments.  You may, however, decide to use other libraries as well - and we would encourage this.  Here are some you may want to consider.

Metropolitan Museum of Art: Watson Library and Nolen Library
Use these libraries to find out more about an artist or an art work on display in, or owned, by the Museum.

Watson Library: Now open to undergraduate and graduate students, faculty, and scholars. Watson is the central and largest library at the Met.

  • All items are non-circulating and must be used in the Library. 
  • Appointments are not necessary but registration is required.  Link to required online registration form
  • Photo ID is required.
  • Stacks are closed to visitors; books, etc. must be requested and will be brought to you.  Watson is a non-browsing collection.
  • Use Watsonline (the Library's catalog) to look up books, etc. in the collection. You can request up to 10 books in advance through Watsonline; you will receive email notification when your books are ready for in-library use. This will reduce your waiting time for materials. Advance request is not required.
  • The Library will page materials from most departmental libraries in the Museum, including Costume Institute.
  • Free  scanners (scan to email, b&w printer, or your own USB drive).  Use of digital camera without flash permitted.  WiFi provided.
  • Check Library hours, location, services and other details. 
  • Consult Watson's Research Questions page for more information on use of the Libary and starting your research.

Remember the Metropolitan Museum website and their very useful Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History, with its full text essays and information on individual works of art.

Nolen LibraryOpen to all Museum visitors.  Nolen's collection is focused on  Museum’s current exhibitions, permanent collection, and art history in general.

Museum website as resource: 

  • Search museum's website for individual art work.      
  • Information varies by website & art work, but may be extensive, including: gallery label, catalogue entry, provenance (ownership history), exhibition history, & references. Example: The Harvesters, Pieter Bruegel the Elder, on the Met's website.  
  • Look for references to specific resources, such as exhibit catalogs (under 'Exhibition History', in our example) and books and/or journal articles (under 'References'). To determine if the FIT Library owns these resources, check StyleCat, for books and exhibit catalogs, and the Journal Finder, for journal, magazine and newspaper articles. 
Have a question or comment about these guides? Contact: libraryreference@fitnyc.edu