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Bridwell|Art Library

Primary Sources in Art: Definitions

Definitions, examples and resources.

Definitions and Examples

A. Primary Sources

A primary source is a document or physical object that was written or created during the time under study. Simply put, the author or creator was present at the time of the event and is able to offer a first-hand account.Primary sources include:

1. Original Documents

Diaries, letters, speeches, minutes (notes) from meetings, interviews, news film footage, autobiographies, official records (birth/marriage/death certificates), scholarly journal articles reporting NEW research or findings, newspaper articles (giving first-hand account of an event), government records and documents (laws, reports, statistics, etc.).


  • Complete letters of Vincent van Gogh
  • UKV 5: preliminary report on the excavation of the tomb of the sons of Ramses II in the Valley of the Kings

2. Creative Works

Poetry, drama, novels, music, artworks, photography

3. Relics or Artifacts

Jewelry, pottery, clothing buildings, etc. that were used during a particular period of history


  • Native American blankets, baskets and pottery

Definitions and Examples

B. Secondary Sources

A secondary source interprets and analyzes primary sources. In other words, a secondary source uses primary sources to contribute to its discussion/analysis of a particular topic.  A secondary source is one or more steps removed from the event.


  • magazine and newspaper articles
  • critical commentaries
  • scholarly journal articles
  • textbooks
  • encyclopedias

Definitions & Examples

C. Comparison and Example

Primary Source: American photographer Man Ray's photograph of a flat iron called "Le Cadeau."

Secondary Source: Peggy Schrock's article called "Man Ray's Le Cadeau: the Unnatural Woman the De-sexing of Modern Man," in Woman's Art Journal.

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