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Art Research Basics

Learn to research art with ease using credible, college-appropriate resources to frame, guide, and inform your projects.

James Baldwin on Art

Brainstorm Search Terms

Below are some basic search terms that work well in our databases. A research librarian can also help you identify additional terms supporting your specific assignment.

  • Art history

  • Baroque art

  • Medieval art

  • Photography, 

  • art - Combine this subject term with names of specific artistic movements, geographic regions, time periods, etc. (for example: African American Art  or Art, Africa)

  • names of specific artists

Understand Your Assignment

The content of your paper is dictated by your professor's assignment prompt. Read it carefully, as following the guidelines laid out by your professor is crucial to your success. If the assignment prompt confuses you, consider attending your professor's office hour or emailing them for clarification.  MJC research librarians are happy to help you understand the guidelines laid out in your assignment.

Check out these useful links providing guidance and tips for students tasked with writing about art. These links are meant to serve as a supplement to your professor's assignment prompt and the material in this guide.

Create Some Research Questions to Guide Your Inquiry

Research questions will keep you focused and on task. Sometimes your professor will include specific questions they want addressed within the prompt.  A research librarian can also help you develop questions based on the parameters of the assignment.

Below are some generic questions that can help you get started on researching an artistic movement or era:

  1. Why is this movement important to art history?

  2. What characteristics are common to works in this movement?

  3. What is the history of this movement? When, why and how did it begin?

  4. Who are the important artists of the movement? What are the important works?

  5. What subsequent movements/artists has this movement and its artists inspired?

  6. Based on my research, what do I think about this movement's significance to American art history?


Here are some useful questions focusing on a specific work of art:

  1. Who is the artist? Provide biographical information about him/her.

  2. What is the medium of the work of art? Can you provide a physical description?

  3. Can you describe the different artistic elements present in the work (line, shape, light, color, texture, space, time, motion, etc.)

  4. What is the affect of these various elements?

  5. In what country/culture was this work created? When?

  6. What other art was being created in this culture at this time?

  7. To what artistic movement does this work of art belong? Describe it.

  8. In what ways is the chosen work of art representative of the movement? In what ways is it unique?