Images above in the Art Institute of Chicago collection. From left to right: | Oil on canvas mounted on board painting by Jean-Baptiste-Camille Corot | Limestone stela created in the late Maya culture | Rayon and silk, plain weave, screen printed panel for The Taliesin Line of Frank Lloyd Wright | Earthenware with polychrome pigments sculpture from the Chinese Tang dynasty |
Research in art history most often begins with a work of art—or a group of art objects—or with an artist, or the makers of works of art.
Whether writing a term paper, a thesis, a scholarly essay or journal article, an exhibition label, a catalogue, or a monograph, the place all art research begins is with the art itself.
The first step in an art history project is to spend time looking at the work you are researching.
Where did you encounter the object or group of art objects?
Do you own it, or is it owned by someone you know?
Did you come across it in a museum or gallery setting?
Or have you seen an image of it—online, in a book, during a lecture?
If you can look at an object in person, or even hold it in your hands, do so often; if you only have access to a reproduction, look carefully at the image whether it's in a print or digital format, reminding yourself that you are looking at a reproduction. Take notes on what you see and observe, and list questions you have about the artwork in front of you. Already, you are doing art history.
After you have spent some time looking at the art work you are researching:
For those new to art history (and for general inspiration for everyone) discipline-specific guides to art research and writing about art can be very useful. Here are a few, and places to find more: