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Waidner-Spahr Library

Art & Art History: Researching Art


A keyword is simply an important word or short phrase relating to your research. Keywords can be a person's name, a work of art, a place, an organization or a subject. You can often use keywords to conduct a search of the Dickinson College Library Catalog, electronic databases, or reference sources. As you begin to research your topic, you will discover additional keywords that describe your subject. You can also use the Getty Vocabularies to brainstorm keywords for your search.

Expanding or Narrowing a Search

Words such as AND, OR, and NOT are used to combine search terms to broaden or narrow a search in an electronic database. AND will narrow your search; for example, the search "cats AND dogs" returns items that contain both the terms cats and dogs (both terms must appear in the record). OR will broaden your search; for example, the search "cats OR dogs" will return items that contain either the term cat or the term dog - both not necessarily both. NOT will exclude specific items, thereby narrowing your search slightly. For example, the search "medieval history and (Italy NOT Florence)" will exclude any items on medieval history dealing with the city of Florence, but will include any other books or articles written about medieval history in the rest of Italy.

Finding Resources

When starting to research a topic in Art or Art History you will often start with a specific artist or work in mind.  However if there is little written on your artist or piece you will need to be more creative and brainstorm additional keywords.  Once you exhaust your search using these terms, there are other ways that you can generate search terms.  You can use the technique, medium, style, or period of art as potential keywords in your search. 


Examples of Styles or Periods:

  • Roman
  • Islamic
  • Jewish
  • Minoan
  • Beaux Arts
  • Abstract Expressionism
  • Art Deco
  • Baroque
  • Hudson River School
  • Minimalism
  • Postminimalism
  • Pop Art
  • Renaissance
  • Pre-Raphaelite
  • Rococo
  • Surrealism


Examples of Technique or Mediums:

  • Fresco
  • Watercolor
  • Engraving
  • Bronze
  • Marble
  • Ceramic
  • Mosaic
  • Tapestry
  • Oil painting
  • Calligraphy
  • Gouache



















Searching using one of these or a combination of these can yield different results that may lead you to more information that you can use as you are researching.  If you are unsure how a specific artist fits into the catgories above, Grove Art is a good starting point that can help you learn about an artist or work of art.

You may also want to consider the symbols or iconography in the work of art as well as researching background information about the time period that may provide important context for the work of art.

Subject Headings

A subject heading is a specific word or phrase used to find and organize books and articles by topic. Subject headings are different from keywords in that they are specific terms assigned to a subject by an organization. For example, the Library of Congress supplies subject headings for books owned by Dickinson College (and other libraries), and the company that provides the Art Full Text database supplies subject headings for the articles indexed in that database. These subject headings, also known as subject descriptors, may not be what you would expect. You might, for instance, go to our catalog and search for autobiographies. The Library of Congress often uses the term "personal narrative' instead of autobiography.

Library of Congress Subject headings can often be found on the page of a book that provides the publisher's information. The subject heading can then be used to search for a book or article when copied exactly as printed. Another way to figure out what the key words or subject descriptors are for your subject would be to enter the title of a book on the subject that is in our library. Then click on the catalog record and look at the bottom of the page to find the subject descriptors.

In the library catalog and many electronic databases, an items's subject(s) will be hyperlinked, so that you can click on the subject heading to find similar items. You also might want to note the exact words for future use.

    This is an example of a book in the library catalog with numerous subject headings:

    Raphael, Dürer and Marcantonio Raimondi: Copying and the Italian Renaissance Print
    Personal author: Pon, Lisa.
    Publication info: New Haven, Conn. : Yale University Press, 2004.
    Physical description: 216 p. : ill. (some col.) ; 26 cm.
    Bibliography note: Includes bibliography (p. 202-211) and index.
    Personal subject: Raimondi, Marcantonio, ca. 1480-ca. 1534--Criticism and interpretation.
    Personal subject: Raphael, 1483-1520--Criticism and interpretation.
    Personal subject: Dürer, Albrecht, 1471-1528.--Criticism and interpretation.
    Personal subject: Vasari, Giorgio, 1511-1574.--Criticism and interpretation.
    Subject: Engraving, Italian.
    Subject: Engraving--16th century.
    Subject: Art, Italian--Reproduction--History--16th century.
    Subject: Prints--Italy--Copying--History--16th century.
    Subject: Artistic collaboration--Italy--History--16th century.


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