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Art and Design

Art and Design

Finding relevant resources

Research topics in art and art history can be rich combinations of influences and subjects. You can begin to develop your topic with a specific material in mind, such as porcelain or bronze, or specific techniques such as photogravure or encaustic painting. Combining materials and styles in a particular place or period of time is a common way to develop a more complex research topic. For example, what are some of the key features of Abstract Expressionist painting? What materials have been used in feminist body art? Are there common motifs used in Scandinavian weaving and embroidery?

It is easy to develop complex topics further by also considering a specific time period, a specific location, or specific practitioners. Who are some of Mexico's women photographers and what are key features in their work? What are differences in the graffiti art of Los Angeles and New York City? Is there a Pacific Northwest style of art?

In the study of art history, styles and periods are central concepts in the discipline. Distinct historical time periods such as Baroque, Mycenaean, and Renaissance are organizing concepts used to describe significant periods artistic activity. Other important organizing concepts refer to stylist attributes, such as Mannerist, Gothic, or Moderne. Sometimes specific groups of artists give rise to a school of work that refers both to stylistic or philosophical tendencies called movements or genres. Dada, Bauhaus, and Postmodern are examples of this.

Before you begin your research, brainstorm keywords that will help you locate relevant material.

Examples of materials and techniques:

  • ceramic
  • bronze
  • fresco
  • tapestry
  • mosiac
  • chine-collé
  • collage
  • raku
  • miniatures
  • illustration

Examples of movements and genres:

  • Futurist
  • Surrealism
  • Pop
  • Romantic
  • Pastoral
  • Situationist
  • plein-air
  • Young British Artists
  • Art Nouveau
  • Fluxus

 Examples of periods and styles:

  • Roman
  • Medieval
  • Gothic
  • Minoan
  • Hellenistic
  • Expressionist
  • Ottoman
  • Byzantiine
  • Mughal
  • Huichol
  • Flemish

Develop a research plan

Develop your research topic.

What are the key concepts of your topic?  Can you broaden or narrow your focus? Consider focusing on one or more of the following:

  • time period
  • place
  • specific event   
  • specific people

Does your topic overlap other subject areas such as anthropology, geography or political science?

Think of 2- 3 questions that you will need to explore.

  • Think about the history of your topic, and its categories.
  • Who are the key people? What did they do? Why did it happen?

Under each question, think about the following aspects:

  • What do you already know about your topic or issue?
  • What do you need to learn to better understand your topic or issue?
  • What kind of information resource might provide the answer to these questions?

Consider your audience.

  • Who will read your paper?
  • Why will it be of interest to them?
  • What will be new to them?

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