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Art Research Guide: Gather Background Information & Identify Keywords

This guide was developed to help you get started researching art topics using Bentley Library resources and services.

Gather Background Information

Reference sources (such as encyclopedias and dictionaries) present an overview of a topic and often include links and lists of additional sources.  Reference sources are also an excellent way to identify keywords and search terms.

Online Reference Source:

Oxford Art Online
The Bentley Library provides access to a wonderful art reference database called Oxford Art Online.  Users can also choose to view biographies, subject entries, or images when searching or browsing. This database provides access to more than 23,000 subject entries, 21,000 biographies, 500,000 bibliographic citations, 40,000 image links and 5,000 images.

Print Reference Sources:

To find print reference sources ask a Reference Librarian for assistance, or use the catalog search box on the "Find Books & DVDs" tab of this research guide.

Brainstorm Keywords & Construct a Search

Think about the information you are searching for and brainstorm a list of the various keywords that describe your topic.  What words or combinations of words will retrieve the specific information that you need?  As you retrieve information take note of any new keywords or subject terms to use in your research.

For example you might search using:

The Name of the Artist

  • Monet
  • Picasso
  • "J. M. W. Turner"
  • "John Singer Sargent"

The Title of the Work

  • "La Japonaise"
  • "The Daughters of Edward Darley Boit"
  • "The Slave Ship"

Country, Region, or Place Name

  • Japan
  • "United States" or America
  • Adirondacks
  • "New England"

Subjects, Themes, Time Periods

  • war
  • motherhood
  • slavery or abolition
  • "gilded age"

Movements, Theories, Schools

  • impressionism
  • cubism
  • orientalism
  • "pop art"
  • "Ecole de Paris"

Subject Guide

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Stephen Tracey
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