Start Here

Start Here


Research Help is still available during Spring 2020 remote instruction!

Email or chat your subject librarian using the contact information on the right of this page. We can provide remote research assistance via Zoom (which allows for screensharing), chat, email, and phone.  

VPA 302 -- Getting Started

Researching the process of art is accomplished by both focusing on individual artists and their work. This will involve looking for biographical and historical information, discussion of their methods, and critical analysis of their place in the arts.

Here are some ways of looking at the artist through several lenses:

  • Biographical means you are looking for facts about their life, education, experience and world events that shaped their thinking.
  • Discussion of the medium (why they choose the materials they do and their choice of methods.)
  • Look for discussion by the artist on their collaboration with, or inspiration by, others.
  • How do they react/incorporate the environment they find themselves in?
  • Note that much of this comes from the artist themselves through writings, lectures, interviews and exhibition notes.

Here are some ways of looking at the work through several lenses:

  • Is there discussion of the degree of experimentation they are demonstrating?
  • Look for reviews and responses to the work created from experts, other artists and the intended public. 
  • Note that much of this comes from reviews of work, exhibits and secondary source materials, such as books and journals.

This variety means you have a number of different resources to look at, each valuable for its contribution to your research. This variety also means you need different search strategies when working with different resources. The following tabs will divide up this task to show the appropriate places and strategies for the research needed.

Historical Sources

This may be the hardest part as it is not as familiar a topic, but is essential to understanding the influences on your artist in social and cultural context:



Biographical Research

Biographical Research

VPA 302 -- Biographical

Biographical Research

Reference works as a beginning research tool (note the specialized as well as general treatments):

  • The Oxford Dictionary of Art    N33 .O93 2004
  • Artists, Writers, and Musicians   Oversize  NX90 .A714 2001
  • A Biographical Dictionary of Artists  Oversize  N40 .B53 1995
  • Who's Who in Art    N40 .W6
  • Who's Who in American Art  Oversize  N6536 .W5
  • Dictionary of Contemporary American Artists   N6512 .C854 1994
  • Contemporary Women Artists  Oversize  N8354 .C66 1999
  • African Americans in the Visual Arts   N6538.N5 O86 2003
  • A Dictionary of the Avant-Gardes  Oversize  NX456 .K67 2000
  • Women Filmmakers & Their Films Oversize  PN1998.2 .W66 1998

Electronic reference tools:

Biographical information from the catalog can come from:

  • books about (the artist as subject) or by (the artist as author),
  • reference sources such as biographical dictionaries,
  • exhibition catalogs front matter where they describe the artist and his philosophy to 'set the stage' for the exhibit.

To locate material about an artist, use the SUBJECT search by lastname, firstname. Review the results to find works about the artist or their works.

If you are not finding books on your artist, there can be a couple of reasons and of course, solutions!

They may be so new to the arts that they have not been discussed yet or the in-depth study you find in books has not had time to be published.

  • You may find resources in journals which have a faster publication cycle.
  • You may find them in larger works about many artists, such as dictionaries of art, etc. Some titles are listed below.
  • You may want to research the art genre and the materials they use to find mentions of them.


Biographical information from journals:

Many exhibits and reviews will include pieces of information, but it is a great deal of effort to assemble what you find into a coherent whole AND, sometimes that information is incorrect in these secondary sources. That places responsibility on you as the researcher, to verify any information from secondary sources.


Biographical information from the internet:

The first thing is to question the source. Is it from a reputable site? Do not just assume that it is. Look for interviews with the artist, or sites that provide a reference to the source the information came from.

Try searches on your artist's name with the words "interview", "biography" or "background".

If searching Google, add domain limiters such as site:edu or site:org to locate more reputable sources. Of course, the artist is likely to have their own website which can be a wealth of information. If they are teaching faculty at a university, they may have posted their curriculum vitae on the web which will provide some professional biographical material.

Books & the Catalog

Books & the Catalog

VPA 302 -- Books

Arts Research -- Books

Research on the art process and product can be directed in several ways. Note that materials and techniques resources will frequently be from books, where criticism and reviews of work and exhibits will be from journals. 

  • Historical (how has the genre developed over time? Who are the main artists, inspirations, or predecessors?)
  • Materials used
  • Collaborations (who, as well as what contribution?)
  • Critical reception (both negative and positive from experts, other artists and the intended public)

Beginning research tools:


  • The Grove Encyclopedia of Materials and Techniques in Art   N8510 .G76 2008
  • The HarperCollins Dictionary of Art Terms and Techniques   N33 .M37 1992
  • Encyclopedia of the Documentary Film  REF PN1995.9.D6 E53 2006
  • Encyclopedia of New Media: An Essential Reference to Communicaton and Technology  Oversize QA76.575 .E5368 2003


  • The Oxford Companion to Western Art  Oversize N33 .O923 2001
  • The Oxford Dictionary of Art   N33 .O93 2004
  • The Dictionary of Art  REF  N31 .D5 1996
  • Encyclopedia of Comparative Iconography: Themes Depicted in Works of Art  Oversize N7560 .E53 1998

Electronic reference works

Grove Music Online
Comprises the full text of The New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians (2d edition, 2001), The New Grove Dictionary of Opera (1992), and The New Grove Dictionary of Jazz (2d edition, 2002).

Other (non reference) information from the catalog can come from:

  • books about specific techniques or media,
  • searches on collaboration in the art(s)
  • exhibition catalogs.

KEYWORD searches are good ways to explore the holdings at CSUSM. Don't forget to expand your search to the Circuit collection as UCSD has an art and architecture library with some exceptional holdings that you can have delivered to CSUSM.

Beyond the CSUSM collection and dependent on how much time you have, there are additional options:

CSU+ (3-5 day delivery)
Search the collections of the other 22 CSU libraries. Find and request books directly online; pick them up at our Library in 3-5 days.

WorldCat (5-10 day delivery)
Search the collections of libraries world-wide -- about 52,000,000 books. Find a book in this database, and fill-out an Interlibrary Loan delivery request. Book will be delivered to Library for pickup.

Google Books
Many of the results will not provide full text, but you discover what is available in the world beyond CSUSM, and we can probably borrow it for you.

Journals & Databases

Journals & Databases

VPA 302 -- Journals and Databases

Arts information from journals:

Databases are great resources for reviews and critiques of art movements and art exhibitions. Here are the best places to begin:

Art Full Text

ProQuest - Arts
Periodicals, yearbooks, museum bulletins, competition and award notices, exhibition listings, interviews, film reviews, and more.

Project Muse
Full-text coverage for hundreds of scholarly journals in the humanities, social sciences, and mathematics

Contains (EXCEPT for the latest five years) core scholarly journals in sociology, history, economics, political science, mathematics, African-American & Asian studies, literature, humanities, music, and biological, health & general sciences.

ArtSEARCH (Theatre Communications Group)
Theatre Communications Group website provides a theatre-focused resource for those in and those studying the profession.

Communication & Mass Media Complete
Provides abstracts and full text for more than 200 communication journals.

Academic Search Premier
General database with a mix of resources, there can be useful articles.

ProQuest Direct
General database with a mix of resources, there can be useful articles.

A search of the CSUSM catalog for Electronic Journals--Arts will provide a list of the nearly 300 journals on art we have in full text.

A search of the CSUSM catalog for Art--Periodicals will provide a list of the journals on art, including those available in print.



VPA 302 -- Thesauri

Art Thesauri

Using these will aid in your mind map project.

Thesauri are tools to help you determine alternate, related, and oppositional terms based on an original word or idea. While most users think of them as an old-fashioned writing aid to provide variety in writing, they actually are very useful in today's electronic search strategies.

Computers are stupid.

Yes, they are--maybe fast, but dumb. The search engine will look for whatever set of characters you have typed in. The computer cannot conceptualize what you are looking for, it simply returns all matches, regardless of relevance to your needs.

What this means...

You need to be the smart operator! By being smart, this does not mean knowing all about the topic (then you would not need to do research) but that you come up with alternate useful relevant terms that you can use with or instead of your original concept term.

How do you determine these magic search terms?

A great place to start is thesauri, dictionaries and specialized encyclopedias. 

Art & Architecture Thesaurus (REF Z695.1.A7 A76 1994)

Thesaurus of Slang (REF PE3721 .L45 1994)

A Women's Thesaurus: An Index of Language Used to Describe and Locate Information by and About Women (REF Z695.1.W65 W65 1987)

Dictionary of Subjects and Symbols in Art (5th floor N7560 .H34 1974b)

St. James Encyclopedia of Popular Culture

Oxford English Dictionary
A guide to the meaning, history, and pronunciation of over half a million words, both present and past. It includes etymological analysis, listings of variant spellings, and shows pronunciation using the International Phonetic Alphabet

On the open web:

The Tate Museum's Glossary of Art Terms

Library of Congress Classification Outline: Fine Arts

Art & Architecture Thesaurus Online (Getty Institute)

Internet Resources

Internet Resources

VPA 302 -- Internet Resources

Internet Sources

Your instructor may allow use of some web pages you find on the Wild Wild Web. NOT ALL SITES ARE OF EQUAL VALUE TO YOU AS A RESEARCHER. Exercise caution with statements you find and look for references lists and citations for supporting documentation. Without careful fact-checking and research, you don't know what is truth and what is fiction, but the instructor grading your paper is going to know! Click on a link below to open a page of reliable sites you can check out:

Before getting started, you might want to refer to this reference book in our collection: Art Information and the Internet: How to Find it, How to Use It at REF N59 .J66 1999. This discusses, among other topics, museum web sites, search strategies and more.

Digital Art Museum

Digital Millenium Copyright Act (summary by Indiana University)
Protect yourself by knowing the law regarding use of digital images and information. It is NOT true that anything on the web is free for use. The US Copyright Office offers a summary.

Digital Performance Archive
Based in England, this site attempts to archive current activity in digital arts as well as provide access to past work.

Histories of Internet Art: Fictions and Factions
A variety of interactive and digital art and artists (including biographical information and interviews), hosted by the University of Colorado Art Department.

Chicano digital art collection and images

MAAP : Multimedia Arts Asia Pacific
Links to artists, organizations, resources and events for the artist working throughout Asia (including Australia and India)

Rhizome's Net Art Anthology
Online exhibition presenting 100 works from net art history

Free-access Journals
A combination of weblog and newswire, updated daily, that examines issues affecting the arts such as copyright, artists, performers and more. You can follow the Visual Arts link to focus on more specific postings.

Crossings: Electronic Journal of Art & Technology
Peer-reviewed journal looking at all aspects of art and technological applications.

Directory Of Open Access Journals
Click on "visual arts" to see freely-available full text of arts-related online journals.


Citing Sources

Citing Sources

Visual Arts Research - Citing Sources

MLA Citations for Students


As you write your paper, you'll need to cite passages and ideas from the sources you've found.  In order to cite your resources properly, you need to follow the style guide used by for this class, the MLA Handbook.

Sites with examples of in-text citations and works cited pages (supplement the MLA Handbook for Writers of Research Papers)

In the library:

MLA handbook for writers of research papers.
7th ed. New York : Modern Language Association of America, 2009.

APA: American Psychological Association

Image of APA citation manual book cover

APA Style Help
Purdue Online Writing Lab (OWL)

Library Copies (BF76.7 .P83 2001)